A Muslim teenager has been barred from starting her A-levels at one of London’s top state schools because she wears a full-face veil.
The 16-year-old, who has studied at Camden School for Girls for five years, decided to wear the traditional Islamic niqab to cover her hair and face when she returned this month to start in the sixth form.
But the north London school is refusing to allow the girl to begin her A levels if she insists on wearing the veil.
Although the school, whose alumni include campaigner Sarah Brown, the wife of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and actress Emma Thompson, has no uniform, it says the niqab goes against an appearance policy.
Hundreds of pupils are among more than 500 people who have signed an online petition supporting the girl.
The girl’s 18-year-old sister said the school’s decision had been “very upsetting” for the family.
She said: “My sister just wants to wear the niqab for her own reasons and attend a school.
“I don’t feel like her education should be compromised or the way she dresses should affect the way anyone looks at her.”
The student only found out a few weeks ago that she had secured a place in the sixth form – but has now been told it is dependant on her not wearing the veil.
In a statement, the school said: “We have an appearance policy and students at the school may wear what they wish subject to any requirement in the interests of teaching and learning, health and safety.
“Inappropriate dress which offends public decency or which does not allow teacher-student interactions will be challenged.”
The petition on change.org, started by an anonymous protester, states that the girl was allowed to sit her GCSE exams this summer wearing the niqab and claimed past students have also worn the veil without being banned, however this has been denied by the school.
It reads: “This school is renowned for its ‘individuality’ and ‘strong feminist views’. However, this poorly thought out decision made by the school contradicts this. What happened to ‘freedom of expression’?”
A former pupil who supports the petition, Farhana Khanom, commented on the website: “I went to Camden School for Girls and many girls wore veils and were allowed to do so. This school had a reputation. And now discriminating people that made their own choice to wear what they feel is utterly disgusting. “
The school, rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, is the first known to have imposed a bar on full-face veils since Birmingham Metropolitan College was forced to overturn a ban last September following an online petition signed by 9,000 people.
Under guidance provided by the Department for Education in 2007, schools have the freedom to set their own uniform policies and enforce such a ban on on security, safety or learning grounds.
London mayor Boris Johnson sparked controversy saying that burqas in schools were “completely wrong” as it emerged that a number of secondary schools in London had forced children as young as 11 to wear the full covering.