Birmingham City Council is to reassure schools that they are free to ban pupils from wearing Islamic headscarves, after its equalities chief was criticised for trying to force a headteacher to allow a four-year-old to wear the hijab.
John Clancy, the Labour leader of the council, said Waseem Zaffar, his cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality, had referred himself to an independent standards committee after the government’s integration tsar said she was “very concerned” about his behaviour.
Mr Zaffar wrote on Facebook that he had met with the headteacher of a local primary school after a four-year-old girl, who it later transpired was a relative, was prevented from wearing a headscarf and told to wear shorts during PE.
He said: “I’m insisting this matter is addressed asap with a change of policy.” A friend of the councillor replied, saying that requiring shorts to be worn for PE was equivalent to “forcing a girl to undress”.
Dame Louise Casey, the government’s integration tsar, wrote to Mr Clancy, warning that Mr Zaffar’s “grossly unfair and undue” actions suggested that the council had failed to learn the lessons of the Trojan Horse scandal . . .She said she was “very concerned … about the wisdom and legitimacy of councillor Zaffar using his influence in this misguided way”.
Mr Clancy said in the letter that the council had offered “immediate support” to the school after the row came to light, but the council yesterday refused to put out a statement backing the headteacher or confirming Mr Clancy’s statements in his letter.
A government source said: “The obvious weakness of their response shows they are failing to grip the situation. We would like to see them make a robust public response. If their support for the school is as strong as they say it is, they should say so in public.”