Frustration and anger over St Albans school's change to hairstyle and uniform policy

Verulam School has changed its policies with regards to hairstyles and the dress code for sixth formers.

Verulam School has changed its policies with regards to hairstyles and the dress code for sixth formers. - Credit: Danny Loo

Changes to a school's uniform policy to remove references to hair styles have been accused of being a "tickbox diversity exercise".

Verulam School headteacher Julie Richardson hit the national headlines after saying rules on hairstyles are outdated, do not fit with modern ideas on dress and unfairly target students of colour.

She said: “It is utter madness to be taking children out of class, away from learning just because their hair style does not fit in with archaic ideas on dress.

“It is my view these rules, inadvertently or not, target students of colour, and as such are not inclusive and discriminatory.

“This is not the type of school I would like to attend, work at or lead which is why we have removed all reference to hair in our uniform policy. We want our boys to embrace how their hair grows.

“That means afros, long hair, man buns, cornrows, bleached, dyed, whatever way our boys choose to express themselves is OK by us. 

“Too many young people feel that they need to look a certain way and conform. This is fuelled by social media. We want our students to know it is OK to be themselves.”

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The policy review follows Ms Richardson taking over as headteacher in September.

After publishing a press release on the new policy, Ms Richardson featured in The Independent and on BBC London to discuss the reasons why it was adopted.

But St Albans social worker Shelley Hayles says the issue should be focused on the children, rather than the school.

"Children with Afro hair do not have a choice. We have to protect and maintain our hair. It’s costly and time consuming and sometimes a painful process. It’s not the same as choosing to have a man bun. 

"How many black parents were consulted about the change of policy? The review by the head and white parents is not a measure of success. I have a ton of evidence from people in St Albans that suggests otherwise.

"If change is going to be made then it needs to happen at a local and national level - it should not be the personal choice of the headteacher as to who devises, implements and monitors the inclusion and diversity agenda in schools. 

"It’s 2022 and my levels of frustration and anger are rising daily with the white saviourism, tick box diversity exercises that schools think are acceptable. 

"I appreciate all the support we receive from those who are not from a black and minoritised group but you all need to learn to walk beside us and behind us, not in front when it comes to matters where you have no lived experience."

As part of the change in policy, Verulam School has also allowed a greater choice in what sixth formers are allowed to wear, including cultural and religious dress such as ankle length thobes which are commonly worn in the Middle East.

Ms Richardson said: "Most schools insist on this strict uniform policy but cultural or religious dress is rarely mentioned as being acceptable.

“They have vision statements claiming to be inclusive yet their policies are anything but. It is about having helping students have a positive self-image and mental health. This is what is important for us."

But Shelley said the uniform policy was a separate issue to hairstyles: "I would like to see a national policy to allow girls to be allowed to wear the niqab or hijab in school without question. One head teacher allowing sixth formers to wear their own clothes is not a headline article.

"Because quite frankly the step she has made is more likely to be detrimental to our plight for systemic changes in education. I can hear all of the racists up in arms now.

"This could work really well in a London school but I believe that in an area such as St Albans this has the potential to create greater division among communities."

Anyone interested in participating in Afro hair care workshops with Korelle Williams please email Leeannaswish@gmail.com