Church of England primary schools draw controversy for including hijab in their uniform policy

(Reuters/Olivia Harris)Sanaa, 10, puts on her hijab as she gets ready for Islamic Saturday school in Leyton, east London November 9, 2013.

A new survey in the U.K. has found that several primary schools run by the Church of England have included the hijab in their uniform policy.

The findings of the survey conducted by the Sunday Times found that 18 percent of 800 primary schools across 11 English regions, including those run by the Church of England, list the hijab as part of their uniform.

Some have raised concerns about the policy since Muslim girls traditionally do not wear the head covering until puberty. Critics believe that allowing religious headscarves could cause division in classrooms, while others fear that wearing the hijab at such a young age sexualizes the children.

Toby Howarth, bishop of Bradford, dismissed the concerns, saying wearing the hijab is a "matter of religious identity not sexualization."

Gina Khan, a children's rights campaigner in Birmingham, said that some schools may be allowing the hijab as part of the uniform policy for the wrong reasons.

"Schools are allowing it because they are afraid of being called Islamophobic and they have been told that this is a religious garment — but they need to support Muslim girls to have free choices, not to be set apart from other children," she said, as reported by The Christian Post.

Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, said that such uniform policies should be "fiercely resisted."

"Personally, I am against the wearing of hijabs altogether. I believe we are in a secular western country largely influenced by the Christian faith," Carey stated.

Michael Nazir-Ali, former bishop of Rochester, said he believes there is no reason for schools to list the hijab as part of the uniform policy.

"If there are difficulties, they can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis between parents and schools. By including it in a policy, parents may come under pressure from religious leaders — who might say you are not a good Muslim if you do not do it," he argued.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) is reportedly conducting an investigation whether head teachers are being pressured to include hijabs as part of the school uniform.

The findings revealed that 46 percent of 72 primary schools in Birmingham allowed the hijab in their school uniform policies. Thirty-four percent of 68 schools in Tower Hamlets had a headscarf policy, while 36 percent had a similar uniform scheme in Luton.

However, the report did not indicate whether most of the schools are located in religiously conservative areas or not, and whether the distribution of schools surveyed is representative of the whole country. It also did not reveal the percentage of pupils that actually wear the hijab, and it only looked at how many schools would allow the head covering if a child's parents were to put in a request.

The uniform policy is reportedly far less common in areas with large Muslim communities. Only six percent out of 77 primary schools in Leicester listed the hijab as part of their uniform, and only eight out of 133 schools in Manchester did the same. In Blackburn, only six percent out of 50 schools allowed the hijab.

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