A college has abandoned its ban on Muslim face veils after a storm of local protest, a planned demonstration and the involvement of the prime minister. Birmingham Metropolitan College climbed down late on Thursday despite David Cameron and the Department for Education endorsing its right to have such a policy. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, had said he was “uneasy” about the move. A Muslim women’s group called the original ban “disproportionate” and challenged the college to justify why it had considered it.
The college had originally said students must remove all hoodies, hats, caps and veils to ensure individuals were “easily identifiable” as part of keeping a “safe and welcoming learning environment”.
The multi-campus college, which teaches more than 9,000 16- to 19-year-olds as well as thousands of adult learners, said media attention caused by the protests might detract “from our core mission of providing high quality education”. A petition against the policy had gathered 8,000 signatures and hundreds of students had planned to demonstrate against the policy on Friday. City councillors and MPs had also protested.
Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, said: “This change in policy is enormously welcome. The college has made a wise decision to rethink its policy on banning veils for a group of women who would have potentially been excluded from education and skills training at the college had the ban been enforced.”
Aaron Kiely, national black students’ officer for the NUS, said: “I’m delighted that the petition attracted so many signatures in such a short amount of time, which affirms just how outrageous the decision to enact this policy was.”
Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, said: “The complete ban of the face veil on campus by the Birmingham Metropolitan College was a disproportionate response because female students who wear the veil are not only very small in number but were also willing to show their face when required so their identity could be verified.
Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering, will introduce his private member’s bill to ban the wearing of face coverings in public for a second reading in February next year.
Three years ago he told the Independent: “I just take what I regard as a common sense view. If you want to engage in normal, daily interactive dialogue with your fellow human beings, you can only really do this properly by seeing each other’s face.”
Jack Straw, then leader of the Commons, suggested in 2006 that wearing a veil might hinder community relations.