Birmingham accused of going soft on extremism amid fears of another Trojan Horse scandal
Birmingham city council has become embroiled in a feud with the Government’s integration tsar after its equality chief challenged a school for stopping a 4-year-old girl from wearing an Islamic veil at school.
Dame Louise Casey has written to the Labour-run council to condemn the actions of equality chief Waseem Zaffar, who attempted to overturn a decision made by the head of St Clare’s Catholic School in Handsworth Wood.
According to local media reports, Mr Zaffar told the school that its uniform code, which banned young children from wearing headwear, was in breach of the Equalities Act.
However, Dame Louise said his actions had been “grossly unfair and undue”, and that the incident had made her question whether “sufficient lessons” had been learnt from the Trojan Horse scandal.
It comes three years after Ofsted said it had found evidence that 21 schools in the city were being targeted by Islamists, and that head teachers were being “marginalised” in a clandestine attempt to introduce conservative ideology in the classroom.
At the time, then Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw accused Birmingham City Council of a “serious failure” in its duty to support schools and their efforts to safeguard children from extremism.
Following the scandal, the council remains the only local authority in England to be subject to constant official monitoring by the Government.
Writing to John Clancy, the council leader, Dame Louise said she was “very concerned” by Mr Zaffar’s actions, as she pointed out that there is no requirement in Islam for girls aged four to wear a headscarf.
“After careful consideration, I don’t think I can just let it go. Not only did the lead member for the community cohesion visit the school to discuss the issue… he took to social media to say ‘I’m insisting this matter is addressed asap with a change of policy.’
“There is no religious requirement within Islam that children aged four must wear a scarf,” she said.
Dame Louise queried the “wisdom and legitimacy” of Mr Zaffar, and asked Mr Clancy to set out exactly what Birmingham was doing to support schools in the authority facing similar pressures.
“Why councillor Zaffar thought that his actions were an appropriate use of his office? What action the council leadership has taken to address this? And why you think this won’t happen again?
“I found it was women and children who were the targets of these kinds regressive acts.”
A spokesman for Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, MP for neighbouring West Bromwich, told The Times that he would “condemn any individual who tried to prevent a school from upholding its own rules on how pupils should dress.”
Birmingham City Council said it had responded to Dame Louise’s letter privately when approached for comment.