Governor resigns as East Ham school does U-turn over hijab ban

St Stephen's Primary School in East Ham

St Stephen's Primary School in East Ham - Credit: Archant

The governor of an East Ham primary school which banned the hijab for girls under eight has resigned and the restriction has been lifted.

Arif Qawi left his role at St Stephen’s Primary School in Whitfield Road, last week following a backlash against the ban.

More than 20,000 people signed a petition calling for it “to be withdrawn immediately”, while a second petition calling for Mr Qawi’s resignation was signed by almost 1,500 people.

A spokeswoman on behalf of the school said: “The school’s uniform policy is based on the health, safety and welfare of our children.

“The school has taken the decision to make changes to this policy with immediate effect, and this follows on from conversations with the council and our school community.

“We will work with the council and our school community to continue to review this policy going forward in the best interests of our children.”

She also confirmed Mr Qawi’s departure.

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The outcry was sparked after an article in the Sunday Times, which featured both headteacher Neena Lall and Mr Qawi discussing both the hijab ban and a policy of discouraging fasting on school days.

Ms Lall had told the newspaper that the changes had been made to help integrate children into British society.

But Imran Shah, a spokesman for the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, had criticised the claims.

He said: “If it’s about integration, are they going to ban Jewish and Sikh religious wear?

“Schools have an obligation to ensure their uniform is does not cause a barrier between them and the community. They have done just that.”

In addition, an open letter jointly signed by a group of Newham councillors claimed that the ban set a “dangerous precedent”.

It read: “Freedom to practice one’s faith is one of the fundamental freedoms that we cherish in Britain.

“Parents must be trusted to bring up their child in the best possible manner to be full and active members of society and they should have the freedom to decide for themselves how to dress or bring up their child in their particular faith.”