Tori Sprott portrait

Written by Tori Sprott

Tori has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Policy Studies in Education. She has a particular interest in Sociology of Race and Education and exploring counternarratives from a racial perspective.

Introduction: Equality in Schools

School is a place where young people spend most of their lives. Schools should be safe spaces for young people to learn and develop their values, self-esteem and life skills. It should be a space where equality is championed and held high as a core value, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. This blog will focus on a specific type of inequality that Black and mixed-raced people are often faced with in school, hair discrimination, and will provide schools with some tools for navigating this issue.

In this blog, I will introduce the concept of hair discrimination with a brief outlook on Afro hair and its significance. I will also be referring to real examples of young Black and mixed-race people who have been punished by schools for wearing natural hairstyles. In this blog, I will be using the terms ‘natural hair’ and ‘Afro hair’ interchangeably, referring to the natural kinky texture of Black people’s hair. It is worth mentioning here that in acknowledging Afro hair, we must also acknowledge the diversity within this term, as there is no single natural hair texture. 

Hair discrimination: a brief history

On the surface, many may assume that hair is just that: hair. Why the big fuss over something so trivial? The history attached to Afro hair is vast but also a huge identity marker for Black and mixed-race people that many aren’t aware or conscious of. Historically, Afro hair has been a symbol of background and status, a site of oppression, something that required alteration, particularly post-transatlantic slave trade, and a symbol of Black power (Jahangir, 2015). This indicates that the perception of Afro hair has changed throughout history – once being seen as beautiful and powerful, then being seen as the opposite during the transatlantic slave trade where many Black people had their hair shaved off. This led to many people with Afro hair (chemically) straightening their hair to avoid the abuse and stigma post-transatlantic slave trade, and also led to a period of time where people with Afro hair reclaimed power and pride over their natural hair as a response to racism and hair discrimination. The impacts of these ever-changing perceptions are wide-spread and still exist in present day. 

The impact of the transatlantic slave trade on how society perceives Afro hair is still present today, resulting in Black and mixed-race people feeling as though they need to straighten their hair to “fit in”, with concepts of ‘good’ [looser curls, softer texture] and ‘bad’ [kinkier more dense hair textures] hair formulating ideas about the acceptable appearance of Black people’s hair (Robinson, 2011).

Hair discrimination in schools: UK context

Research from World Afro Day Hair Equality Report (2019) showed that 82.9% of young people had experienced having their hair touched without consent, and 58% experienced being on the receiving end of uncomfortable questions. These are troubling statistics. These occurrences can be offensive because it points out that there is this sense of difference that inclines those without Afro hair to touch it or ask questions that could leave people feeling alienated. If there were more education on Afro hair, perhaps the occurrence of these uncomfortable encounters would reduce, and overall comfortability for those with Afro-textured hair would increase.

I can remember various occasions as a young Black person being told, “you should straighten your hair”, typically by people who did not have Afro-textured hair. This is quite offensive as it suggests that your Afro-textured hair is perhaps incomplete or undone. It is unfortunate that hair discrimination exists, and we see such incidents occurring in UK schools with Black and mixed-race pupils facing exclusions due to culturally dismissive uniform policies. 

Ruby Williams is a young person who faced hair discrimination at school in London. She was told that her hair was a distraction and “too big”, and as a result was sent home on multiple occasions, disrupting her learning. She also speaks on the pressures to straighten her hair in her younger years as natural hair was never represented around her. The problems started when she decided to stop straightening her hair, and she was routinely targeted by the uniform policies that the school had in place, which have since been removed. Ruby’s family took legal action against the school, however, it ended with an out of court settlement (Virk, 2020). In March 2021, students at Pimlico Academy staged a walk out due to uniform policies banning hairstyles that “block the view” of other students (BBC, 2021). In this context, students are having to take matters into their own hands in order to be heard, but this commitment to equality needs to be taken further by those who have authority in policy-making processes.

Jewellery Quarter Academy in Birmingham recently adopted the Halo Code – coined by the Halo Collective as a means of committing to hair equality in workplaces and schools (Newsround, 2020) – stating that “all students should be able to come to school being themselves and feel proud of their identity. That is why we are proud to sign up to the Halo Code” (Chamberlain, 2021). 

So, where do we go from here? What can schools do to prevent this from occurring in the future?

Recommendations for school policy – how can we tackle hair discrimination in schools?

  • Schools must ensure that their uniform policies surrounding hair styling do not have a disproportionate impact on Black children. Avoid exclusions or any kind of behaviour punishments that would further marginalise that child. Thinking about uniform policies, the language used in such policies (for example, ‘professional’ – what is being suggested if Afro hair isn’t deemed professional, and what impact does this have?), why they have been implemented, and whether they can be adapted for inclusivity. Schools can consult with stakeholders in order to better understand the implications of language used within a policy.
  • Schools must create an environment of inclusion and commit to embedding understanding of diversity in the school ethos. Understanding how certain language and descriptions about Afro hair can be problematic. Actively challenging stereotypes and assumptions about Afro hair[styles] that reinforce racist ideas about groups of people. Members of staff should be aware of discriminatory language [amongst pupils and staff] regarding Afro hair and ensure that this is not tolerated or acceptable. For example, the idea that Afro hair is ‘messy’ or ‘not done’; the idea that straighter hair is more ‘professional’ than Afro hair; asking a Black or mixed-race student/staff member if their hair is a wig if it is long or straight. 
  • Make a pledge – As mentioned earlier, The Halo Collective are a group of campaigners who advocate for hair equality in schools and workplaces. Adopting their Black Hair Code shows commitment to rejecting hair discrimination. A number of schools in the UK have adopted this code. Schools can also make their own pledges about how they will tackle the issue of hair discrimination within their setting and embed this in the school rules.


BBC (2021) Pimlico Academy pupils stage protest over ‘racist’ uniform policy, BBC, 

Chamberlain, Z. (2021) School’s bid to end hair discrimination after shocking number of black students face name-calling, Birmingham Mail, 

GOV.UK, Discrimination: your rights 

Jahangir, R. (2015) How does black hair reflect black history? BBC. 

Newsround (2020) Halo Code: What is it and how does it protect afro hair? BBC,

Robinson, C. L. (2011) Hair as Race: Why “Good Hair” May Be Bad for Black Females, Howard Journal of Communications, 22:4, 358-376.