By Elham Asaad Buaras
A Catholic school has been forced to override its uniform policy to comply with the European Convention of Human Rights after barring two Muslim schoolboys from classes because they would not shave off their beards.
Both 14-year-olds had been placed in “isolation” from the start of the new term at Mount Carmel Roman Catholic High School in Accrington, Lancashire, and were sent home as the school maintained they had to be clean shaven.
But the school has now reversed its decision as it explained it had to comply with the European Convention of Human Rights.
It is unclear whether the u-turn was also affected by the Deputy Prime Minister’s support for the two boys.
Speaking a day before the schools announced its decision to allow the boys back on October 11, Nick Clegg said: “I think kids in school should all be treated the same. This is where we come to a difficult faultline – I think people should be able to show their full faith and wear what they want. But there are exceptions – in hospitals, in security sections.”
In a statement the school said: “Governors at Mount Carmel have decided that there will be no change to the school rule which requires boys to be clean shaven. However, following discussions with leaders of the local community, exemptions will be made in certain clearly-defined circumstances.
“As a voluntary aided Catholic school, governors are the employers and legitimately set their own rules regarding uniform and appearance.
“The rule regarding boys being clean shaven is reasonable and proportional and has been in place for some time. All parents and children are fully aware and accepting of school rules.
“The rule is part of the school standards agenda along with hair style, hair colour, jewellery and make up ensuring high expectations for all pupils and that their appearance is standardised.”
Head Teacher Xavier Bowers had previously stressed the matter was not one of religion but about dress code.
Bowers had previously said that the decision to place the boys in isolation had not been taken lightly.
He said: “I have spent quite a lot of time researching the issue and speaking to Muslim elders.
“There is nothing specifically written in the Koran about wearing a beard. It is a choice those boys are making.
“However inclusive we are, we have standards to maintain.”
There is no legislation that deals specifically with school uniform or other aspects of appearance. However, the Department for Education (DfE) guidance to schools on this issue states: “It should be possible for most religious requirements to be met within a school uniform policy and a governing body should act reasonably through consultation and dialogue in accommodating these.”
In addition the DfE warns the schools of their obligation “not to discriminate unlawfully (under Equality Act 2010)” and also bear in mind the “concept of ‘indirect’ discrimination which “puts certain people at a particular disadvantage because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief or gender reassignment.”
According to Equality Act 2010, discrimination because of race and religion is unlawful. This legislation applies to schools and other areas. However, according to Equality and Human Rights Commission, school uniform requirements which prevent Muslims, Sikhs or Jews from wearing religious clothing or jewellery “will usually constitute indirect discrimination.”
*Meanwhile, Muhammed Tariq has taken his six-year old daughter, Saniya, out of classes after she had her Islamic necklace (taweez) confiscated by a teacher who said wearing it broke school rules at Nottingham Academy. Following outcry to the incident, Britain’s biggest school has altered its uniform policy and said Saniya can now wear the jewellery under her polo shirt, in class.