Veils that stop teachers seeing pupils’ faces are ‘not suitable in school’, according to a headteachers’ leader. A Home Office Minister started the debate about whether the state should step in to protect young women from having the veil ‘imposed’ on them.
Last week Birmingham Metropolitan College decided to ban veils and started a political row. It then backtracked, following a petition that attracted 8,000 signatures in 48 hours and criticism from politicians, The Telegraph reports. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies described the proposed ban as ‘massively divisive’.
Since then Jeremy Browne, a Liberal Democrat MP, has called for a national debate over the issue, saying that he is ‘instinctively uneasy’ about banning behaviour: “..there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married. We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression,” he said.
The debate was fuelled last week when the Prime Minister’s spokesman said that Mr Cameron would have no problem with the veil being banned in his children’s schools. Tory MP Dr. Sarah Wollaston described the veils as ‘deeply offensive’ and claimed that they are ‘making women invisible’. She suggested that the niqab should be banned in schools and colleges.
The BBC reports comments from Brian Lightman, ASCL’s general secretary, that although veils aren’t suitable in school there is no need for government legislation. Schools set their own dress code rules and this should remain the responsibility of headteachers and governing bodies, working with parents and the local community. “While schools understand and are sensitive to dress requirements for students from particular religious communities, including the Islamic head covering, it is widely understood that teachers need to see students’ facial expressions which is why full face veils are not suitable in school contexts,” he said.
Where do you stand in the veil debate? Should girls be allowed to wear the keep their faces covered in school – and what about teachers?