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Should Schools Dictate Children's Hairstyles?

24/03/2015 23:59 | Updated 24 May 2015

Should schools dictate children's hairstyles?

"There's no room for silly haircuts here." So said a member of staff at a boys' grammar school I recently visited. It transpired, when I dug for detail, that she didn't just mean shaved heads and Mohicans.

"Floppy fringes, longer hair and too much hair falling over the ears – it's all frowned upon," she explained sternly.

Meanwhile, at a primary school closer to home, several comments have been made by a teacher recently about one of the boys who wears his hair longer than some.

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So should schools be able to tell you what hairstyles your children can have?

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Nailsea School in North Somerset certainly thinks so. Just two months ago, 12-year-old pupil Liam Pegg was told he must be taught in isolation until his 'too extreme' haircut grew back. The year eight pupil, whose father Tim describes as something between a mullet and Mohawk, was told he couldn't even socialise with students at break time until his hair grew back because his hairstyle did not fit with uniform policies.

"It's hardly an extreme haircut," Mr Pegg told the press. "I would understand if he had dyed it bright pink and had it spiked up all over the place, but it isn't."

In fact, he believes it is against his son's human rights to place him in isolation. "If he has to wait until his hair grows back, he could be in isolation for months. This is outrageous and is effecting his education," he added.

The case echoes that of 12-year-old Anthony Mousiou, who was told late last year that he must study in isolation by his school, Samuel Ryder Academy in St Albans, Hertfordshire, after his short-back-and-sides was just 4.5 millimetres too short and breached their uniform policy.

It's not just secondary schools where children can get into trouble for how they wear their hair. Earlier this year, nine-year-old schoolboy Danny Purdy was asked to leave the classroom at Brooklands Middle School in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, because he'd saved up £7 of his own money for a haircut like Arsenal footballer Olivier Giroud. He was told he'd be isolated until his hair cut was 'rectified'.

"All he wanted was a little confidence, and it was amazing how something as simple as a haircut did that for him. Brooklands School have taken that away from him," his mum Sarah told the press. In fact, she was so incensed that she removed him from the school, altogether, vowing to tutor him at home until the row was resolved.

"We genuinely didn't think a haircut like Danny's was breaking the rules," she told the Daily Mail.

"As long as children wear their school uniforms correctly and work hard at school, I really don't see what the problem is. I always thought we think with our brains and not our hair, but clearly not."

Headteacher Steven Harrington-Williams defended the school's stance. He said they had held an assembly on uniform policy prior to the cut, but that Purdy still came into school with a large portion of his head shaved, almost to the scalp, while the rest was long. "We have a school policy on haircuts and unfortunately, I, as headteacher of the school, have to abide by those standards."

Even pre-schoolers are not immune. At the end of last year, three-year-old Delaney Templeton was banned from his first nursery school photograph at Southwick Community Primary School in Sunderland after his headteacher branded his haircut too short.

"Dear Parents," read a subsequent letter from the school to all parents. "Sorry to write to you again regarding our school uniform policy. Extreme haircuts, including lines and layers are NOT allowed in school."

Meanwhile, nine-year-old Billy Eddleston from Darwen, Lancashire, was sent home earlier this year for three days running because his head teacher said his haircut was too long on top.

Bernadette Bickerton, head of Hoddlesden St Paul's CE Primary School in Lancashire, told the press: "Billy has not been [permanently] excluded from the school and we hope to see him back in class as soon as possible so any disruption to his education is kept to a minimum. Both parents and pupils are made aware of our high expectations and aspirations before they choose the school and we have a very clear uniform policy."

But Billy's mum Connie Eddleston, 30, thinks the way the school dealt with it is a 'disgrace.' "Billy has had the same haircut, in varying lengths, pretty much his whole life," she told her local paper. "I feel like Billy's been victimised, and he feels picked on. I feel like the school is failing my child."

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There is no legislation around pupils' uniform or appearance. Instead, the matter is left up to the individual school's governing bodies to decide.

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But schools often do impose bans on 'extreme' haircuts or colours as part of their broader uniform policy and the Department of Education does advise that pupils who don't comply to such uniform rules can be disciplined in accordance with the school's published behaviour policy.

Susan Turner, who has three children at different schools, is all for such rules. "If you don't have rules around how children look, where does it end?" she says. "Endless piercings, ridiculously short skirts? Plus, children need to learn that there are rules in life that have to be adhered to, whether you agree with them or not. That's life."

Don Walker, a father of two, adds: "Rules around uniform make everyone equal, which means less rows in the morning at home and less bullying in school. I don't blame schools for being strict around this subject."

But Jemma Forte, TV presenter, mother and author of When I Met You, thinks it's all gone too far. "Do we really need schools dictating whether or not our kids are allowed to have a side pony tail, beaded braids or an afro? My son has a friend whose parents are quite rock n roll. Dad works in the music business, Mum rocks a bit of fake fur and leopard skin at the school gate.

"So it seems totally normal that their two boys should have longish hair. It's an expression of who they all are and as far as I'm concerned these small differences in people are what make life interesting.

"It's all a matter of common sense and to be honest, the only reason I insist on tying my daughter's hair up every day is to avoid nits. In this house, they're the ones that dictate the children's hairstyles, nobody else."

What do you think?

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