The legality of banning Afro hair in schools
New guidance published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last month states that school bans on natural Afro hair styles – or any hair styles related to race - are likely to be unlawful, with the potential to infringe on the 2010 Equality Act. The act outlines race as a protected characteristic, and crucially, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone on the basis of their protected characteristics. This includes their hair, or their hairstyle, if they are in any way related to their race or ethnicity. The watchdog has found that many school rules on hair disproportionately affect pupils with Afro-textured hair.
The EHRC’s guidance aims to help school policy makers understand the law and avoid unlawful discrimination. This follows the 2020 case of Ruby Williams, a mixed-race pupil, who was repeatedly sent home as her natural hair texture was found to infringe on her school’s policy. Following legal action, funded by the EHRC, Williams received an £8,500 out-of-court settlement from her school.
This will be one for human rights lawyers to watch. As guidance around the banning of hairstyles in schools becomes clearer over the coming months and years, there’s likely to be a rise in legal disputes surrounding issues of unlawful discrimination. It’s also likely that schools may call upon legal representatives as they review their policies in line with new guidance and the Equality Act.
Have a look at our Diversity & Inclusion data analysis here.