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Headteacher to remove Union flag after hundreds of pupils protest over 'racist' policies and uniform rules

Ellen Manning
·4-min read

Watch: Students at London School Protest New Dress Code

A headteacher has reportedly agreed to take down the Union flag and amend controversial school uniform rules after teachers threatened industrial action following an anti-racism protest by hundreds of pupils.

Daniel Smith, head at Pimlico Academy in Westminster, central London, sent a letter to parents on Wednesday night promising to revise a controversial ban on hairstyles that sparked protests at the school this week, the Evening Standard reported.

The move came after union members at the school passed a motion of no confidence in Smith following a walk-out by hundreds of pupils on Wednesday. 

The protest was in reaction to a new uniform policy introduced by the head last year which stated that hairstyles that “block the view of others” would not be allowed and hijabs “should not be too colourful”.

The head has now said the Union flag will not be flown until a review – which due to start after Easter – and rules around hijabs have also now been removed from the policy, the Standard reported.

Police officers outside Pimlico Academy School, west London, where students have staged a walkout in protest over a school uniform policy that they claim is discriminatory and racist. Picture date: Wednesday March 31, 2021. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
Police were seen outside Pimlico Academy in London where students staged a walkout in protest over a school uniform policy that they claim is discriminatory and racist. (Getty)

The decision to remove the flag has sparked a backlash from some MPs.

Bob Blackman, Conservative MP for Harrow East, told MailOnline the situation was 'bizarre and ridiculous', saying: "It is totally unacceptable to have a position whereby the flag of our country is not allowed to fly above public buildings."

Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield, added: "At a time when we are trying our very best to bring the country together after the problems with Brexit and coming out of the pandemic, it is very sad to see that this school feels it appropriate not to support the Union flag."

Read more: Boris Johnson's most senior Black aide quits the day after 'divisive and gaslighting' race report released

Smith's letter to parents comes after unionised staff at the academy delivered a vote of no confidence in the head on Wednesday. 

Just hours later, parents were reportedly sent a letter promising to revise the rules. 

The Evening Standard reported that new uniform guidance issued to pupils on Thursday still demands that hairstyles are “conventional”, but has removed the mention of styles that “block the view of others”.

Referring to the Union flag, the letter also reportedly added: “We acknowledge that this symbol is a powerful one which evokes often intense reactions,", adding that a review into students', parents' and wider concerns will be carried out after Easter and until then it will not be flown at the school. 

Pimlico Academy School, west London, where students have staged a walkout in protest over a school uniform policy that they claim is discriminatory and racist. Picture date: Wednesday March 31, 2021. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
Pimlico Academy is rated excellent by Ofsted, but its senior leadership team has reportedly resigned. (Getty)

On Wednesday, hundreds of pupils holding Black Lives Matter flags chanted “we want change”.

They demanded the removal of the flag — which had previously been pulled down and burnt and graffiti reading “ain’t no black in the Union Jack” scrawled on a wall — that flew outside the school, complaining it was a racist symbol.

They also complained that the history curriculum had been rewritten to focus on white British kings and queens, with references to ethnic minorities being removed.

Parents also claimed teachers told pupils that if they joined the demonstration they would be excluded, denied use of the toilets and banned from having lunch.

In an online statement, the protesting pupils said: “We believe the school has unfairly targeted groups of students. The school should protect marginalised races, religions and other groups instead of targeting them.”

A member of staff speaking outside the school said the enforcement and “strictness” of recent rule changes had caused some teachers to feel “undermined”.

The staff member, who did not give her name, said students felt the uniform policy was “racially discriminating” in that it “targeted particular groups in the school” such as those wearing a “head dress” or those with “Afros”.

“Our feeling as staff is that we really support what the kids have done,” she added.

Future Academies, which runs the school, said in a statement on Wednesday: “The majority of students were in classrooms studying as usual throughout the protest.

“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."

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