According to a recent survey by the World Afro Day campaign and Shift Insight consultancy, most teachers are unaware of the application of equality laws to their school’s hair policies. The results showed that more than 75% of teachers received no training on how the 2010 Equality Act applies to school policies on uniform and appearance, while only 12% have received training regarding diversity and equality, which also covers hair policies.
The study also revealed that 42% of the surveyed teachers claimed their school’s appearance policies gives "no potential to discriminate", and 30% believe the potential is low. Only 8% of respondents said the policies had a high risk of discrimination.
Michelle De Leon, the founder of World Afro Day, explained that hair policies in traditional school settings neglect to reflect the diversity of students, and are outdated. De Leon added, "hair is a part of a person’s identity. If schools understood that skin and hair are part of the same package they wouldn’t treat hair as something different. These are children’s bodies we are talking about."
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that teachers and educational leaders strive toward equality, diversity and inclusion; therefore, he welcomed the insights provided by the report. Barton noted, "the more we can do to raise awareness about the potential for afro hair discrimination, the better, and ASCL is committed to working with World Afro Day to this end."
The survey used real-life examples to present teachers with a scenario involving an 11-year-old boy who was not allowed to enrol to a Catholic school in London because of his cornrows braids. However, the boy took the school to the high court and won based on "indirect racial discrimination." When questioned on the scenario, 71% of teachers regarded it as a discriminatory case.
The findings by the survey signal the gap in understanding among teachers and educators on hair policies within schools, according to Jane Powell, the managing director of Shift Insight. In 2020, a schoolgirl received an £8,500 settlement out-of-court after she was repeatedly sent home because of her hair. The UK’s Halo Code was launched in 2020 to tackle policies that discriminate against black hairstyles. It enables schools to commit to end discrimination against particular hairstyles.