College announces policy U-turn ahead of student demonstration after petition attracts 8,000 signatures in two days
Students and councillors condemned the ban on face veils at Birmingham Metropolitan College
A city college was forced to drop its controversial ban on Muslim face veils – less than 24 hours before a mass demonstration by hundreds of students.
The astonishing U-turn by Birmingham Metropolitan College came after a protest petition attracted a staggering 8,000 signatures in just 48 hours.
Hundreds of students planned to gather outside the Matthew Boulton city-centre campus at 2.30pm on Friday to voice their opposition to the policy, which was criticised by city councillors and MPs.
On Thursday night, in the face of the furore, the college announced its humiliating climbdown.
A statement said: “We are concerned that recent media attention is detracting from our core mission of providing high quality learning. 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.
“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 Mail reported on Tuesday how education bosses had introduced a ban on all face coverings, including the niqab, for ‘security’ reasons, along with hoodies and caps.
But the National Union for Students condemned the ban and an online protest petition had attracted 8,000 names within two days.
Speaking before the decision to drop the ban, Aaron Kiely, Black Students Officer for the union, said: “This ban is a complete infringement on the rights to religious freedom and cultural expression and is a clear violation of a woman’s right to choose.
“Women in Britain are rightly free to wear religious dress. We will be exploring all options to robustly challenge this outrageous decision.
“We call on Birmingham Metropolitan College to reverse its decision and respect the fundamental rights of its diverse student population to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and cultural expression.”
The under-fire college said the policy had been in place for some time and had been designed to protect students.
In defending the original decision, a statement from college principal Dame Christine Braddock said: “To ensure that safeguarding is a priority, we have developed our policy alongside student views to ensure we keep them safe.
“This needs individuals to be easily identifiable at all times when they are on college premises and this includes the removal of hoodies, hats, caps and veils.”
The decision was also attacked by senior councillors in the city and MPs.
Coun Waseem Zaffer, chairman of the council’s social cohesion board, said the college should be more concerned with failing ethnic minority students than “silly policy making”, in an open letter to Dame Braddock.
“Whilst I recognise fully the priority of safeguarding learners from harm I cannot see, however, how the banning of veils contributes to the safeguarding agenda as I very much suspect that those learners who choose to wear the veil will indeed feel that no one is safeguarding their choice for cultural dress,” he said.
“I am also deeply concerned about your success rates for apprenticeships, especially for learners from a minority background.
“It would appear that learners from some of our most disadvantaged communities, and arguably the ones who need the most support (African-Caribbean and Pakistani) are not doing anywhere near as well as learners from other backgrounds – and this saddens me immensely as many of my constituents have an African-Caribbean or Pakistani heritage.”
Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Ladywood, had previously said she was “deeply concerned” by the ban .
“For those that choose to wear the full veil, it is an important article of faith,” she said.
“I am deeply concerned that other colleges may follow suit, as a result of the which increasing numbers of women will be locked out of education and skills training.”
A Muslim woman was granted permission to wear her full-face veil while entering a plea in court yesterday – after a judge initially forbade it.
The woman, who denies a charge of witness intimidation, had previously been told she would have to show her face so she could be “conclusively identified” by Judge Peter Murphy at Blackfriars Crown Court in London.
She refused, arguing the face covering was essential for religious reasons as she was in the presence of men.
The same judge yesterday backed down and allowed her to wear her niqab while entering a not guilty plea.