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Family who battled against school hair policy to help write guidance

PUBLISHED: 12:01 25 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:27 11 March 2020

Ruby Williams, now 18, with her dad Lenny and mum Kate. Picture: Williams family

Ruby Williams, now 18, with her dad Lenny and mum Kate. Picture: Williams family

Williams family

A schoolgirl who was sent home because of the length of her afro hair has received an £8,500 pay out and will be working with Hackney Council to make school guidance on hairstyles “more flexible and inclusive”.

Ruby's official school photo for years 10 and 11, taken at the end of year nine. Picture: Ruby WilliamsRuby's official school photo for years 10 and 11, taken at the end of year nine. Picture: Ruby Williams

Ruby Williams was 14 years old when the head teacher at Urswick School in Hackney Central started saying her hair breached the school's policy. The policy, which made specific mention of afro hair and stated it should be of reasonable size and length, has now been changed.

Her father, however, says his daughter was 'crushed' by it.

Ruby received £8,500 in an out-of-court settlement after her family took legal action against Urswick school. The school sent Ruby home because of her hair and suggested she cut it, relax it or braid it to comply with its rules despite the damage that could be caused by chemical treatments or the cost and time spent on alternate hairstyles.

As a result of her case, the Williams family have been offered the opportunity to contribute to guidance on how hair is worn in Hackney classrooms. They were supported in their dispute with the school by the council and Hackney Mayor Phillip Glanville and see this as a 'positive move'.

Ruby was told to change her hair but alternative styles were often damaging, costly or time-consuming. Picture: Kate Williams.Ruby was told to change her hair but alternative styles were often damaging, costly or time-consuming. Picture: Kate Williams.

Lenny said: 'I'm hoping that we can work out a policy that will help every child of ethnicity to not go through what Ruby and other children have gone through.

'A fair policy about education - not about what's on top of their heads.'

The school has not accepted liability or apologised to the Williams family as the settlement offer was made by the London Diocesan Board for Schools.

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Ruby's family said they tried 'everything' before taking the matter to court but the school ignored their attempts at dialogue. They said they were looking for justice not money.

Her mother, Kate, said: ' Her [head teacher] didn't even need to apologise in the beginning. All he needed to do was stop. We're all allowed to be ignorant, but you have to be prepared to listen.'

Headteacher of Urswick Richard Brown agreed with a statement put out by the school's governing body which says it is distressed that Ruby and her family feel she has been discriminated against but 'do not accept the school has discriminated, even unintentionally, against any individual or group'.

Governors state the school's policy on hairstyles ensures health and safety standards, especially in respect of practical lessons in physical education, technology and science - and that other schools have more 'prescriptive policies' than those adopted by Urswick.

Despite the disruption the hair policy had on Ruby's studies she achieved excellent GCSE results at Urswick and is applying for university this year. Picture: Ruby WilliamsDespite the disruption the hair policy had on Ruby's studies she achieved excellent GCSE results at Urswick and is applying for university this year. Picture: Ruby Williams

'There's a real darkness about the way black children are treated in school and we need to shine a light on that,' said Kate.

Mayor Glanville said: 'I remain deeply sad and angry about the impact this has had on Ruby, and wish it had been resolved much earlier on without the need for legal action.

'We have asked our education department to develop some clear guidance on this issue. I hope that the Williams family will contribute to this, and the new guidance will assist schools in developing policies on how hair is worn that are more inclusive and flexible in their approach, and that lessons are learnt from Ruby's experience.'

The guidance the mayor is working on will apply to community secondary schools in the area (for which the local authority is responsible) rather than free schools, academies or voluntary aided schools like the Urswick. However the Urswick School has confirmed it is working with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission 'to clarify its policy with the aim of becoming a best-practice school'.

The mayor said he hopes future work led by Cllr Carole Williams and Deputy Mayor Antoinette Bramble will 'help ensure this doesn't happen again'.

A previous version of this article carried the headline, 'Family who battled against 'discriminatory' school hair policy help to write guidance' and said a pupil at the Urswick School was repeatedly sent home from school because of her afro hair. However, we would like to make it clear a pupil was sent home because of the length of her hair, not for having an afro, and that far from being discriminatory, the school's policy is applied equally to all pupils.


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