Girls in dozens of schools in England are forced to wear hijabs, according to National Secular Society research published in the Sunday Times.
The NSS examined uniform policies on the websites of registered Islamic schools in England and found that girls potentially as young as four are instructed to wear the hijab as part of the official uniform policy.
Out of 142 Islamic schools that accept girls, 59 have uniform policies on their website that suggest a headscarf or another form of hijab is compulsory.
This includes eight state-funded schools and 27 primary schools – three of which are state-funded.
In some cases the requirement is very explicit. At Feversham College in Bradford the policy states: "It is very important that the uniform is loose fitting and modest and that the hijaab is fitted closely to the head. The College uniform is COMPULSORY" (sic). Tayyibah Girls' School in Hackney states: "The school is not willing to compromise on any issues regarding uniform."
Girls at Al-Ihsaan Community College in Leicester are told they must wear either a "jilbaab or niqab." The jilbaab is a long loose-fitting garment which covers the body except the hands, face and feet. Redstone Educational Academy in Birmingham includes the jilbaab as part of the compulsory uniform. Olive Secondary in Bradford says that girls' faces "must be covered" outside.
Eighteen schools explicitly state in their online uniform policy that the hijab is optional. Thirteen of these are state-funded.
The NSS has written to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, about the issue. The letter called for the Government to ensure girls from Muslim backgrounds are supported to have free choices, rather than having so called 'modesty' codes imposed on them. It urged the Government to issue guidance making clear that a decision not to incorporate the hijab into a school uniform will be supported by the Government, and that the freedom to allow the hijab to be worn does not extend to primary schools.
"All schools have a duty to 'actively promote' individual liberty, to ensure young people leave school prepared for life in modern Britain," the letter said.
"In our view, the forcing of a child to wear the hijab, or any other item of religious clothing, is entirely at odds with this fundamental British value and with wider human rights norms on children's rights. This conflict needs to be addressed."