Hijab part of uniform at nearly half of Islamic schools in England
More than two in five Islamic schools in England that accept girls require them to wear a hijab as school uniform, according to new research.
Some 59 of 142 (42%) Islamic schools, including 27 primary schools, have a uniform policy which states a head-covering is compulsory, the National Secular Society (NSS) said.
The body has written to Education Secretary Justine Greening to express its concern over the figures, which also showed eight of the secondary schools and three of the primary schools were state-funded.
In the letter, the NSS asks for Muslim girls to be given "free choices" and that guidance should be issued that allowing headscarves to be worn should not extend to primary schools.
The letter said: "In our view, the forcing of a child to wear the hijab, or any other item of religious clothing, is entirely at odds with this fundamental British value and with wider human rights norms on children's rights. This conflict needs to be addressed."
The letter, which is co-signed by NSS campaigns director Stephen Evans, human rights activist Sara Khan and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, goes on to say: "We are further concerned that a number of non-Islamic schools appear to be acceding to fundamentalist pressure to incorporate the hijab into their uniform.
"Given the 'justifications' that lie behind so called 'modesty' codes, and its implicit sexualisation of children, we regard it as a matter of deep regret that so many schools are facilitating young girls being dressed in the hijab."
The NSS said the policy at Feversham College in Bradford states the uniform should be "loose fitting and modest" and a hijab is compulsory.
Another 18 schools say in their policy the head covering is option, including 13 that are state-funded, the NSS survey of school websites found.
Mr Evans told the Sunday Times: "If individual liberty means anything it all, surely it means allowing young people to develop their own beliefs and decide for themselves how they choose to manifest them. Schools should be empowering girls to make their own decisions once they are ready to do so."