Newham councillors oppose hijab ban at primary school in East Ham
PUBLISHED: 14:48 19 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:55 24 January 2018
A group of Newham councillors have penned a letter slamming St Stephen's Primary School's policies on the hijab and fasting, saying it sets a "dangerous precedent" for a crackdown on religious freedoms in education.
The group call on the school to reverse their ban on pupils under the age of eight wearing a hijab and stop discouraging fasting on school days.
They say there has been a “toxic atmosphere” between parents and the school since headteacher Neena Lall was featured in last weekend’s Sunday Times talking about the policies, which she argues will better integrate pupils into British society.
The letter, titled “we must trust parents,” has been jointly signed by Cllrs Mas Patel, Salim Patel, Idris Ibrahim, Firoza Nekiwala, Zuber Gulamussen, Winston Vaughan, Susan Masters, Jose Alexander, Mukesh Patel and Harvinder Singh Virdee.
“Whilst the Council has little or no power to directly intervene we feel it is important that we, as local representatives, speak out and ensure that a resolution is quickly found,” the letter said.
“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.”
The school should not “unilaterally intervene in matters of faith” without consulting with parents, they say, noting that “over zealous” schools could also move to ban turbans, kippahs and other religious clothing.
“When schools focus solely on education they produce outstanding results as in the case at St. Stephens itself, which was recently awarded by The Times as the best primary School in the country,” they add.
A petition against the school’s decision has received almost 19,000 signatures in five days.
The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK also condemned the school’s decisions.
Spokesman Imran Shah said: “Even without the hijab ban and without stopping kids from fasting in Ramadan, St Stephen’s topped the schools league.
“Clearly they aren’t hindering kids from achieving.”
The school has turned down the Recorder’s requests for an interview with Ms Lall.