Pimlico Academy head steps down after outrage over ‘racist’ uniform policy

Students protest after London school stipulated hijabs 'should not be too colourful’

Daniel Smith announced he would leave his position as the principal of London school Pimlico Academy on May 31. Getty
Daniel Smith announced he would leave his position as the principal of London school Pimlico Academy on May 31. Getty

The head of a London school who sparked outrage after introducing a new uniform policy which was said to be racist against Muslim and black pupils has stepped down.

Daniel Smith, the principal of Pimlico Academy, said he would leave his position on May 31.

He brought in an updated uniform policy last year that banned hairstyles that “blocked the view of others”. The policy also stipulated that hijabs “should not be too colourful”.

Hundreds of students staged a walkout on March 31 over the uniform policy many considered to be racist, changes to the curriculum and a decision to fly the union flag outside the academy building.

Future Academies, a trust which oversees the school, will appoint an acting principal until a permanent head is found.

Lucinda Merritt, from the Pimlico Academy Parents Group, said Mr Smith's decision to resign was "a long time coming".

“We thought Future would stand their ground and stand by Mr Smith," she said.

“I think all the parents are feeling quite relieved. There’s also a feeling of apprehension that we’re just getting someone of the same calibre [as Mr Smith]."

Another parent told The National that she supported "a change in direction" at the school.

"There's obviously a reason why the students did what they did - they felt uncomfortable," she said.

"They can't change who they are. It's not nice to feel upset when you're going to school."

Liza Begum, a Labour councillor for Westminster City, said the school "has a lot of work to do in repairing relationships with parents and students".

"I hope students are able to return to a better school environment and I will be working with parents and students to ensure the school takes their concerns seriously," she said on Twitter.

Mr Smith said last month the flag would not be flown outside the school while it undertook a review into the matter and aspects of the school’s uniform policy were revised after concerns.

In an email to staff, he thanked his colleagues for their “ongoing commitment to our students in what has been the most challenging of times”.

Future confirmed Mr Smith’s decision to step down.

“We thank Mr Smith for his unwavering commitment during this time, which has been very difficult due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic,” it said.

“We are pleased to announce that following his secondment as senior vice principal, Mr Anthony Oulton will take up the post of acting principal from the start of next half-term.

“Mr Oulton, who is well known to staff and students at the academy, will be working with Mr Smith to ensure a smooth transition in the coming weeks.”

The National Education Union, which represents teachers at the school, passed a motion of no confidence in Mr Smith.

Police officers stand outside Pimlico Academy in March, when students staged a walkout. Getty Images
Police officers stand outside Pimlico Academy in March, when students staged a walkout. Getty Images

Martin Donohue, from the union’s London branch, said members at the school had voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over what was described as an unacceptable management style.

The school’s redrafted uniform policy stated that hair must be maintained “in a conventional style”.

It said that headscarves and turbans must be black or navy blue, but there was no mention of colourful.

The curriculum that previously focused on white British kings and queens was due to be updated to “address contemporary issues”.

Last September, a union flag outside the school was reportedly ripped down and set alight by pupils, while the walls of the academy were vandalised with graffiti, with messages including “ain’t no black in the Union Jack” and "Pimlico Academy ... run by racists".

After the protest, Mr Smith apologised to students. He said they “inspire me daily” but he had not listened to them "closely enough".

Updated: May 19, 2021 06:57 PM

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