Writing as part of the Orthodox Community in London and a teacher the amount of general ignorance about both this particular school and the British Education system is frankly astounding. Also, amazed to see the entrenched cultural differences across Orthodoxy.
The school is a state school with a faith character
Almost 7,000 of the 21,000 state schools in England are religious - but almost all are linked to the Anglican and Catholic churches.
This is the first ever Greek Orthodox School and it was set up with a lot of time, investment and sheer hard work by the mainly Greek Cypriot community in London. All schools in the UK have a compulsory daily act of Christian worship and Religious Education lessons. In purely state schools this "worship" is usually a liberal, feel-good, let's be nice to each other mish mash - with no other doctrinal content.
In this school worship follows Orthodox patterns and Religious Education is from an Orthodox perspective. The parents who send their children there sign up to that and follow that. The children start the day with the sign of the cross etc. This girl's little brother is there and makes the sign of the cross etc. In fact, quite a number of the children are from Black Caribbean or Black African families and follow the Orthodox practices. In their final year at the school they go on a trip to Cyprus and are warmly welcomed by the Church there.
Unfortunately, rather than being placed in North London, where most of the Greek Orthodox community is based, it is in South London where the Greeks and Orthodox overall are very much a minority. However, it takes children of all faiths, as I said. Priority is given to the Orthodox and then other Christians. They are quite rigid in their discipline and do not allow any bending of the rules. School uniform is standard throughout all schools in England and is generally seen as a means of encouraging discipline and good behaviour.
Personally, I think the school could have been more flexible and allowed the hijab. But not because all girls should wear headscarves in school. We are not the Taliban - and quite shocked at the misogynistic views that some Afghani Imams wouldn't even say coming from some "Orthodox" here. It is not a Church and even 100 years ago young pre-pubescent girls did not have their heads covered in primary school in traditional Orthodox countries - whereas adult women wore head coverings as a matter of course.
The issue here is not the girl's modesty. She is barely 9 years old and has not worn a hijab for the past two years at the school (which she joined at 7 years old - schooling starts at 4 in the UK). She had previously gone to a private school and the parents enrolled her in the Orthodox school signing up to follow its worship and ethos. The abhorrent idea is that somehow the male teachers at the school would harbour sexual desire for a 9 year old girl and therefore she has to cover up from their advances. It is the implication that the male teachers are some sort of pedophiles so the girl has to cover up! That is truly outrageous!
What is also interesting is of the thousands of faith schools across the UK - many with similar strict uniform - they choose to pick on the Greek Orthodox one. They were always free to enrol their daughter in another kind of school. But maybe they figured like many of the Slavic background people here that Orthodoxy means headscarves so their daughter would fit in. Or maybe it's an old Muslim tradition to pick on the Orthodox - old habits die hard.
The school should have just allowed it - purely for diplomatic reasons. It really is not a big deal. I teach lots of girls with headscarves in a purely non-denominational school, I also taught in an Anglican state school that tolerated them (they had to be in the colours of the school uniform in both schools). It is interesting how many in their late teens leave the house in a scarf to please their parents and then take it off at school. Or where deeply unsuitable clothing on the rest of their body (midriffs etc) but keep the headscarves as a Muslim tribal badge.
The other issue is, where would it end? Would they then start demanding wash areas, and a Muslim place for prayer, and halal food on the menu, exceptions made for Ramadan and Eid, Muslim teaching in the classroom etc etc.
The question really is do you think that the male teachers in this Greek Orthodox School are pedophiles who would make advances towards a 9 year old girl. Her parents obviously think they are!
Also worth noting - there are many Muslim girls who do not cover up. Also, in Turkey - where our Patriarchate is based (the school is Thyateira, EP) hijabs are also banned in all state schools there. That is in a mainly Muslim country.