Birmingham Met defended its ban after media attention but has now ‘listened’ to students and ‘modified’ the controversial policy
A Midland college has backed down on a security policy that banned Muslim students from wearing face veils.
Birmingham Metropolitan College revised its policy late on Thursday night, ahead of a protest at the college the following day and in light of mounting criticism from the likes of the NUS, local councillors and MPs.
We are concerned that recent media attention is detracting from our core mission of providing high quality learning”
Even Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appeared to be against the ban.
“We are concerned that recent media attention is detracting from our core mission of providing high quality learning,” said a college spokesperson.
“As a consequence, we will modify our policies to allow individuals to wear specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values.
“The college will still need to be able to confirm an individual’s identity in order to maintain safeguarding and security.
“The necessity to comply with national regulations, examination board requirements and applicable legislation will remain an overriding priority in all circumstances, as will the need to ensure that effective teaching and learning methodologies are applied.
“We have listened to the views of our students and we are confident that this modification to our policies will meet the needs of all of our learners and stakeholders.”
The college hit had the headlines when a prospective Muslim student was told of the policy preventing learners from wearing a niqab.
The girl, who did not want to be named, branded the policy “disgusting” and said she was being “discriminated against”.
Protestors angry at the policy were set to visit the college on Friday, September 13, but the demonstration was called off at the 11th hour in light of the college back-down.
But college principal Dame Christine Braddock (pictured) had appeared to be refusing to give in to pressure on the policy in an interview with FE Week on Wednesday, September 11. However, at that point she declined to comment on whether it would be reviewed in light of objections and media coverage.
“Birmingham Metropolitan College actively engages with our stakeholders and users of our buildings to review our policies on a regular basis,” she said.
Prime Minister David Cameron had also stepped into the row late on Thursday, September 12, apparently in favour of the ban. His spokesperson said: “The point I would make on this is that we back schools being able to set and enforce their own school uniform policies.”
It came just hours after the Deputy Prime Minister said on his LBC 97.3 phone-in radio show: “I’m really quite uneasy about anyone being told what they have to wear and I certainly would need to understand why.
“I think I’ve set the bar very high to justify something like that because one of the things that is great about our country is that we are diverse, we are tolerant.”
The rule preventing use of niqabs — a veil which leaves a thin slot for the eyes — also meant hoodies, hats and caps were banned.
The policy at the college, which had more than 26,000 students just over two years ago before merging with the 12,500-student Stourbridge College this summer, is that individuals should be “easily identifiable at all times”. A college spokesperson said the policy was eight years old.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Schools and colleges have the freedom to set their own uniform policies. We expect them to act reasonably in accommodating the needs of different religions.”
Safe AND inclusive
It was inevitable that Birmingham Metropolitan College would bow to the weight of public pressure.
Clearly, ensuring a safe environment for all learners, employees and visitors is of paramount importance.
And the college policy at Birmingham Met was never intended to offend or discriminate.
Whatever your opinion is about whether this is right or wrong, the college has now listened and seems to have found a way to balance the need for a safe environment with the freedom to wear a veil.
I sympathise with the college’s position and congratulate its principal, Dame Christine Braddock, on being brave enough to modify the policy.
I wish the students and staff both a safe and inclusive start to the year.
Nick Linford, editor