Council equality chief steps down from role amid school headscarf row

A council equality chief who criticised a Catholic primary school's decision to prevent a four-year-old girl wearing an Islamic headscarf has stepped down from his post.

Waseem Zaffar, Birmingham City Council's cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality, has resigned from the role and asked the authority to set up a "review into all current and historical speculation against me".

The Labour councillor was accused of undermining community cohesion in January after claiming a Birmingham school had breached the Equality Act following a complaint from a pupil's family.

In a comment posted on Facebook on January 21, councillor Zaffar wrote: "I'm insisting this matter is addressed asap with a change of policy.

"Senior education officers from Birmingham City Council will also discuss this matter with the concerned school early next week whilst the head and governors discuss their next action."

The city council later said it was supporting the primary school in the Handsworth area to ensure its policies - which do not allow hats or head coverings - are appropriate.

Birmingham's Conservative group has now called on the Labour-run local authority to urgently show public support for the school and the right of all schools to set their own uniform policy.

Councillor Ewan Mackey, Birmingham's shadow cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality, said: "That the cabinet member responsible for equality and community cohesion should have displayed such a failure to understand the equalities legislation is deeply concerning and his actions have severely undermined the cohesion he is tasked with promoting."

Calling for the council to publish all correspondence between councillors and officers relating to the row, Mr Mackey added: "If there is to be an investigation the terms of reference should be published so that everything is open and transparent."

Tory councillor Matt Bennett, the shadow cabinet member for schools, claimed trust between the authority and schools remained "fragile" following the so-called Trojan Horse allegations.

Mr Bennett said: "The response of the city council to date has been more concerned with protecting the reputation of a councillor who has been shown to have been in the wrong."

Mr Zaffar stepped down a day after it was reported that Government integration tsar Dame Louise Casey had written to the council claiming his actions towards the school had been "grossly unfair and undue".

He said in a statement: "Birmingham is my city and I feel privileged to have served as a cabinet member on my council.

"But after careful consideration and in light of continued media and social media speculation, I have discussed the situation with the leader of the council and I have decided I will step aside from my cabinet role with immediate effect

"I look forward to continuing to represent the people of Lozells and East Handsworth in my capacity as a ward councillor and I will continue to serve the city that has given me so much."

The council is currently grappling with budget cuts to services, after a Government-appointed improvement panel concluded it faced a "mammoth" task to balance its books.

Two weeks ago its chief executive Mark Rogers stepped down and has yet to be replaced.

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