The headteacher of a school embroiled in a row over uniform rules that alienated Muslim and black pupils backed down after protests by pupils.
Hundreds of pupils from Pimlico Academy in central London walked out of classes on Wednesday over a series of complaints, including an edict last year that hijabs worn by students “should not be too colourful”. Black students were angered by a policy that banned hairstyles that "block the view of others".
The headteacher Daniel Smith wrote to parents in an attempt to defuse the row as teachers at the school passed a motion of no confidence in his stewardship.
A stipulation that headscarves should completely cover the hair was removed, along with a demand that they should be "conventional and understated in style", London's Evening Standard newspaper reported.
It said the new policy called for "conventional" hair-styling but removed the reference to blocking views.
“Our students are bright, courageous, intelligent young people, passionate about the things that matter to them and acutely attuned to injustice,” Mr Smith said. “I admire them hugely for this though I regret that it came to this.”
Tension came to a head this week when students walked out and left the school sign plastered with stickers that read “Decolonise education” and “Fight racism and fascism”.
Phone camera footage showed hundreds of students taking part in the protest and chanting, “We want change”. Police kept a low-key presence on the school grounds.
Union officials said Mr Smith took over as principal at Pimlico Academy in September last year and the entire senior leadership team has since quit.
The school, which teaches more than 1,000 students aged 11 to 18, was given the highest “outstanding” rating at its last inspection in 2010. Situated a short walk from the Houses of Parliament, the school has been a high-profile focus of efforts to improve the life chances of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But the National Education Union said they suspected “serious failures of management which are bringing the school into disrepute” and will press ahead with plans to vote on strike action.
Pauline Buchanan, an NEU official for London, said the staff backed the student demonstrations. “Members have not taken this decision lightly … members have strongly expressed their solidarity with students' concerns and their desire for an anti-racist school,” she said.
Tension is also simmering over pupils' anger at a lack of recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A Union flag raised outside the school was ripped down by pupils and set alight in September last year, the Guardian newspaper reported.
The flag was removed pending a review after complaints that it failed to reflect the cultural diversity at the school. Racist graffiti was photographed on the walls near the school.
Future Academies, which runs the school, said it was working to address the concerns of parents and pupils.
"It is with regret that these matters have come to a head in such a public way. We want to take this opportunity to reassure parents that this is an isolated event, and we are working to resolve the issues raised.”
One mother, who gave her name only as Dee, said the headteacher needed to make changes to the uniform policies or “he needs to hand in his notice and get someone in that’s going to do a decent job to make our children feel confident about going to school”.
“What parent wants to hear their kids don’t want to go to school as it’s like a prison? That’s ridiculous, we’re in 2021.”