37-year-old Rachida Serroukh, was very excited when one of her daughters was offered a place at the prestigious Holland Park School. Not only was the posh school convenient being right across their residence in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, but it was also the school she studied in when she was her daughter’s age.
She proudly said, “Education is very important to me and I want to ensure that all my children get a good education. My daughter, who will be starting at Holland Park after the school holidays, did really well in her year 6 Sats and was the top girl in her class.”
Last month, she attended an evening event for parents of new students. She was then approached by one of the school’s staff who led her to a room and told her it was against the school’s policy to wear face veils within the school premises. The teacher was referring to Serroukh’s niqab, the traditional face veil worn by many Islamic women. Serroukh also said that she asked to see the school policy banning face veils several times as she was aware of a friend who has never had a problem with wearing similar garb within the school premises.
“I had had no problem from security at the school gate when I entered the school and nobody there had mentioned a policy. I always lift my veil and show my photo ID when required to do so for security purposes,” she said. “I didn’t want to challenge the teacher until I had seen the policy.”
The teacher also asked her to leave the school through the back exit, but Serroukh refused as she still needed to collect her daughter.
“I was very shaken and was in a state of shock about what had happened,” she said. “I had never experienced anything like this before. I have experienced name calling in the street from strangers about my veil but nothing like this had ever happened before. When I got home, I just broke down.”
According to the Department of Education, individual schools have the prerogative to decide about the staff and pupils wearing face veils. However, it says nothing about visitors, such as parents.
After she had written to the school to clarify the ban on face veils, the school’s deputy head Ross Wilson wrote, “It has not been necessary to date for the school to have this requirement stated in written policy. Given the concerns you have raised, we are now considering a written amendment to our health and safety policy to include this specific requirement and will follow the normal protocol of seeking the approval of the governing body.”
In a follow-up email, Wilson also wrote, “We would wish to reiterate that no offence was intended when Mrs … met with you to discuss the situation on the evening of the welcome interviews and it was the school’s intention to provide clarity and transparency.”
Serroukh has since enlisted the help of solicitor Attiq Malik of Liberty Law Solicitors. They feel this is a “straightforward” case of discrimination on religious grounds.