Differential treatment and employability: a UK case study of veil-wearing in schools

Steven Smith, Gideon Calder

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    The chapter explores a particular case in the education setting - one which highlights the place of claims for differential treatment on the basis of religious belief vis-à-vis wider considerations of equality. The case is that of Aishah Azmi, a bilingual support worker in a Dewsbury junior school who claimed, and was then denied, the right to wear a veil in the classroom setting. This was refused, by the school and ultimately an employment tribunal, on the basis that the requirements of her job were such that the wearing of the veil was incompatible with meeting them. As we will see, Azmi was not, as such, requesting an exemption from a given rule: there is no prohibitive legislation on the wearing of headgear in schools, either on the part of pupils or staff. Her claim is illustrative of how issues around differential treatment are dealt with in the absence of such legislation - namely, via the application of other criteria deemed crucial in the educational workplace. Often, such cases are understood in terms of the management of 'trade-offs' between competing values or commitments - for example, between the right to freedom of religious belief and the responsibility of the school to provide and maintain an effective educational environment. Our contention here is that this approach itself will often take for granted features of the issues at stake which have a more nuanced nature than typically emerges in such discussions. Thus both the nature of diversity itself, and the scope of institutions' responsibilities in response to it, are more complex in cases such as this than is often allowed for either in legal theory or in wider social debate.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationDiversity in Europe:
    Subtitle of host publicationDilemmas of Differential Treatment in Theory and Practice
    EditorsGideon Calder, Emanuela Ceva
    ISBN (Print)978-0-415-58082-3
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2010


    • employability
    • political philosophy
    • public policy
    • Diversity
    • multi-culturalism


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