Primary schools should feel free to ban the hijab but should ensure that Muslim girls do not feel they are being singled out or punished for wearing a headscarf, campaigners have said.

There has been an increase in the number of Muslim children who cover their hair in Britain, women's rights groups said, adding that girls as young as four or five were wearing hijabs even though under Islamic teaching it is not a requirement until puberty.

Primary schools set their own policies on uniforms within government guidelines, which state that a school can "restrict an individual's rights to manifest their religion" if it is for "the promotion of cohesion and good order in the school, or genuine health and safety or security considerations".

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