Kara bangles at school – again

The Metro reports that an eight-year-old Sikh boy, Kaiden Singh, has been threatened with exclusion from Summerhill Primary School, Tipton, if he does not remove his kara bangle while at school.

The Singhs recently moved to Tipton and were clearly surprised when his new school objected to Kaiden’s kara. His father is quoted as saying that the kara had never been a problem with schools in the past:

“I’m nearly 30 and I’ve had mine since I was five and it’s never been a problem and it has never been a problem for my son at school before. A teacher can’t force him to take it off so I’ve told him, if they tell you to remove it then you say ‘no’.”

He added that Kaiden only wore his kara for religious reasons, “not to give a statement or for fashion”.

According to the report, the school’s headteacher, Kerry Rochester, told Kaiden’s mother that she should have researched the school’s policies before Kaiden started there; however, the family claims that the policies include a statement that the school will cater to each individual and their cultures, while Kaiden’s father told the Metro that Ofsted had told him to take the matter through the school’s official complaints procedure.

Ms Rochester is quoted as follows:

“Our school uniform policy does state no jewellery, only ear studs if a child has pierced ears. All parents are made aware of this when they send their children to our school … We are a bit taken aback by this because we do consider religious items and we had arranged to meet Kaiden’s parents on Wednesday to discuss the matter with them.”

She also pointed out that Kaiden’s parents had signed a form accepting the school’s policies when he started in September.

Comment

As almost all readers will know, we have been here before. In Mandla v Dowell Lee [1982] UKHL 7, the House of Lords held that refusing to allow a Sikh boy to wear a turban at school breached the Race Relations Act 1976 Act because Sikhs constituted a racial group for the purposes of that Act – as did Jews. Lord Fraser of Tullybelton concluded that Sikhs were:

“… a group defined by a reference to ethnic origins for the purpose of the 1976 Act, although they are not biologically distinguishable from the other peoples living in the Punjab.”

Mandla was followed in R (Watkins-Singh) v Governing Body of Aberdare Girls’ High School & Anor [2008] EWHC (Admin) 1865, in which the Administrative Court overturned a school’s refusal to allow a Sikh girl to wear a kara bangle as contrary to its uniform policy, even though, since she had not yet been baptised, she was not under any positive religious obligation to do so. Silber J was

“unable to accept the contention that there will only be ‘a particular disadvantage’ or ‘detriment’ where a member of the group is prevented from wearing something which he or she is required by his or her religion to wear. In my view, this threshold is too high…” [51: emphasis in original].

He concluded that the school had failed to comply with its obligations under section 71 of the Race Relations Act 2002 – which required it, in considering its uniform policy, to have “due regard to the need to end unlawful racial discrimination and to promote equal opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups – and that Sarika Watkins-Singh had been the victim of indirect discrimination on grounds of race and religion.

Similar considerations would presumably apply in the case of Kaiden Singh – but watch this space.

[With thanks to Daniel Hill for drawing the press report to my attention.]

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Kara bangles at school – again" in Law & Religion UK, 4 October 2017, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2017/10/04/kara-bangles-at-school-again/

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