How to ensure your school is inclusive of Afro hair

No child wants to be a hidden figure in education. Yet, for decades, children with Afro hair have been struggling with punishments and restrictions on their hair in many countries around the world, including the UK. The Big Hair Assembly unites teachers and young people from all backgrounds to end Afro hair discrimination and inspire inclusion. Here, Founder and CEO of World Afro Day, Michelle De Leon explores how the journey to equality must include every child being accepted. 

The Hair Equality Report, supported by De Montfort University, showed nearly a 67% rise in anti-Afro hair policies in the UK. Plus, one in six children with Afro hair have a bad or very bad experience in UK schools. The consequences of Afro hair discrimination maybe hard to imagine for those who haven’t experienced it. Afro hair punishments for Black children are more harmful because like their skin colour, hair is very closely associated with their race. One of the youngest cases was five-year-old Josiah Sharpe who said he “didn’t want to be black anymore because school disliked his hair”. His mother, Danica, said he lost his playtimes for two weeks and was sent home for up to three weeks to “remedy the breach”. 

The same hair rules applied to Black children simply don’t work because Afro hair has different physical needs, a different historical context and different cultural presentation. Most Headteachers need to acknowledge that their previous education and teacher training does not equip them with knowledge about Afro hair. There is currently no support to understand the needs of black and mixed-race children. The first step could be for every Governor and the SLT to read at least one academic study or report on race-based hairJosiahs Banner Afro hair cut discrimination. When you understand a Black person’s hair story, you better understand their life. This approach could close the knowledge and empathy gap and help education leaders better serve their learners of African descent. 

Paddy Russell, Headteacher at Ladybridge High School, said “many learners have talked passionately to me about how the changes to our hair policy have helped them to feel happier, more respected as individuals and more valued at school.  Our learners now have ‘hair freedom’, allowing them to express their cultural identities… Their sense of belonging to the school has increased as a result.” 

Recently, UK Children, teachers and families led global Afro hair inclusion. 192,000+ kids and young people, 560+ schools from 11 countries took part in our Little and Big Hair Assembly events

Josiah's banned haircut

Fairchildes Primary at The Big Hair Assembly

Fairchildes Primary at The Big Hair Assembly

Every school can help introduce their learners to other experiences and perspectives. Suzanne Julyan, Headteacher of Torre Church of England Academy, said: “We only have a very small number of children with Afro hair and no staff. But this is why I am passionate about raising awareness of difference.” This attitude demonstrates PSED commitment to eliminate discrimination and foster good relations between people. 

Here are simple steps, which can boost inclusion for SEND learners:

  • Increase Afro visibility through books, film and images for a variety lessons 
  • Share Afro hair learners’ heritage with the whole school e.g. hosting Little Big Hair Assembly
  • Use SEND resources from other parts of the world to introduce more diversity
  • Add a BSL interpreter with Afro hair for resources or events
  • Explore why Afro hair defies gravity in a science lesson

Lastly,  inspire all children through Afro-textured role models, who are powerful for all Key Stages, like Team GB, Paralympic Athlete, Kadeena Cox. The mental health benefits were evident for pupils at The Big Hair Assembly. 

Over the last 5 years, we have tackled Afro hair discrimination in schools. To achieve this, we have collaborated with teachers, education Unions and global companies because children and young people are counting on us.