Britain’s equality watchdog takes action to prevent hair discrimination in schools

Published: 27 Oct 2022

Pupils should not be stopped from wearing their hair in natural Afro styles at school, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says in new guidance today.

Uniform and appearance policies that ban certain hairstyles, without the possibility for exceptions to be made on racial grounds, are likely to be unlawful.

Race is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, which means a person must not be discriminated against because of their hair or hairstyle if it is associated with their race or ethnicity.

This includes natural Afro hairstyles, braids, cornrows, plaits and head coverings, amongst other styles.

The EHRC’s new resources – endorsed by World Afro Day and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education – will help school leaders ensure hair or hairstyle policies are not unlawfully discriminatory.  

Court cases, research and the experience of our stakeholders indicate that hair-based discrimination disproportionately affects girls and boys with Afro-textured hair or hairstyles. The Equality Advisory and Support Service, which provides free advice to the public on equality law, has received 50 calls since 2018 reporting potential cases of hair discrimination.

Discrimination can range from describing someone’s hairstyle as inappropriate or exotic through to outright bans on certain hairstyles and bullying. Many of those affected say that their schools lack understanding about Afro hair and the care it needs.

In 2020, the EHRC successfully funded the legal case of Ruby Williams who was repeatedly sent home from school because of her Afro hair.

The resources published on Thursday 27 October include:

  • guidance on stopping hair discrimination, with practical examples for schools on when a policy may be discriminatory, based on real-life experiences.
  • a decision-making tool to help school leaders to draft and review their policies
  • an animated video to raise awareness of indirect race discrimination in schools and what should be done to prevent it

Jackie Killeen, Chief Regulator at the EHRC, said:

“Discrimination based on hair can have serious and long-lasting consequences for victims and their families. As Britain’s equality regulator, we want to put a stop to pupils being unfairly singled out for their appearance in schools.

“That’s why, after working closely with experts and those directly affected, we are launching these practical resources to help school leaders understand the law in this area and prevent discrimination from happening.

“Every child deserves to be celebrated for who they are and to thrive in school without having to worry about changing their appearance to suit a potentially discriminatory policy.”

L’myah Sherae, Founder and Chief Coordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education said:

“No child should be sent home from school for wearing their natural hair, which is why our All-Party Parliamentary Group wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in October 2021 to highlight the need for new, strengthened guidance. We want Black children across the UK to know that they can be genuinely proud of their identity, not penalised for it. I am therefore pleased that this guidance is now being published, and I am proud to have been involved in the drafting process. 

“Schools should be safe and supportive environments for all pupils, and race equality in education should be a priority for all teachers. These new resources are an important step towards ensuring that the next generation of children are better protected, and the generations thereafter.”

Michelle De Leon, Founder and CEO of World Afro Day said: 

“Contributing to the new EHRC resources has been an important step towards ending hair discrimination, which many children with Afro hair experience on a daily basis.

“Our work supporting families, protecting children and educating school leaders shows that this extra guidance is needed. We hope that these resources will be an effective tool to clarify equality law for teachers and help shift the bias against Afro hair that has become ingrained in some parts of the education system.” 

Notes to editors

  • The EHRC began work improving resources on hair discrimination following contact from a group of stakeholders, including the All Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education. They provided intelligence and raised concerns about the ongoing issue of discrimination because of hair.
  • Although the new guidance and decision-making tool references other protected characteristics, the resources focus on race because of the disproportionate impact on pupils from specific racial groups. 
  • The EHRC has previously funded the case of a pupil whose school uniform policy banned Afro hair of ‘excessive volume’. The Commission also supported the case of a boy who was told his locks did not comply with the school’s uniform and appearance policy. Find out more in Ruby Williams’ legal case summary and Chikayzea Flanders’ legal case summary.
  • The EHRC is currently accepting applications for funding towards racial harassment, victimisation or discrimination cases through its Legal Support Scheme. To apply for support, visit our Legal Support Scheme page..
  • The EASS is a helpline to advise and assist individuals on issues relating to equality and human rights, across England, Scotland and Wales. They can be contacted for support on 0808 800 0082.

Press contact details

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