Schools are being ordered to close on Muslim, Hindu and Sikh holy days despite objections from teachers.
The directive by two London councils means the schools must shut for the annual celebrations of Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali and Guru Nanak’s birthday in addition to the traditional Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter.
The policy even affects schools with only a small number of Muslim, Hindu or Sikh pupils.
Headteachers have complained about the enforced holidays, arguing they should decide if the religious dates are marked with days off.
The controversy surrounds Waltham Forest and Newham councils, which have publicised their school calendars for Autumn 2009-2010.
They both told schools to take off September 21 for Eid-Ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus, was also included in the calendar as a holiday, but this year it fell on Saturday October 17.
Guru Nanak’s birthday is scheduled for a holiday on November 2. It is celebrated by Sikhs and Nanak’s teachings form a central part of their scripture.
The policy in Waltham Forest affects all community primary and secondary schools in the borough, but not Church of England or Catholic schools.
A review of the policy has begun after complaints from schools. Rachel MacFarlane, head of Walthamstow School for Girls, said the school is ‘frustrated’ by the holiday requirements.
Councillor Liaquat Ali, Cabinet member for children and young people in Waltham Forest, said it was important to teach children about different cultures and backgrounds ‘as much as possible’.
Nobody was available to comment from Newham Council yesterday.