Minister: School should sack veil teacher

A Muslim classroom assistant suspended by a primary school for refusing to remove her veil should be sacked, a government minister has said.

Communities and local government minister Phil Woolas, whose brief covers race relations, says Aisah Azmi cannot do her job wearing the veil.

The 24-year-old said she was not prepared to remove her veil in front of male colleagues, but pupils at Headfield Church of England School, West Yorkshire, complained that they have difficulty understanding the teacher as they cannot see her lips move.

“She should be sacked. She has put herself in a position where she can’t do her job,” Mr Woolas told the Sunday Mirror.

The minister says that the substitute teacher, whose suspension has gone to an employment tribunal, is in breach of sex discrimination laws by adopting her stance.

“She cannot teach a classroom of children wearing a veil. You cannot have a teacher who wears a veil simply because there are men in the room,” Mr Woolas said.

“She is denying the right of children to a full education by insisting that she wears the veil. If she is saying that she won’t work with men, she is taking away the right of men to work in schools.”

He added: “By insisting that she will wear the veil if men are there, she’s saying: ‘I’ll work with women, but not men’. That’s sexual discrimination. No headteacher could agree to that.”

Mrs Azmi, a mother of two, has insisted her religion “forbids” her from removing her veil and claims that it “does not create a problem and students can talk to me”.

She told Today: “The children are aware of my body language, my eye expressions, the way I’m saying things.

“If people think it is a problem, what about blind children? They can’t see anything but they have a brilliant education, so I don’t think my wearing the veil affects the children at all.”

The debate over Muslim veils was sparked by cabinet minister Jack Straw’s suggestion earlier this month that they could represent a barrier between communities.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph today, shadow home secretary David Davis said the leader of the House of Commons had touched on the “fundamental issue of whether, in Britain, we are developing a divided society”.

“At the starkest level, we may be creating conditions in the recesses of our society that foster home-grown terrorism,” he added.

An ICM poll published in the Guardian says that 57 per cent of voters want Muslims to integrate more fully, while 53 per cent agree with Mr Straw that the veil can create a barrier between communities.