The UK's top state primary school has banned hijabs and fasting, calling on the government to issue firm guidelines to schools across the country on these matters.

St Stephen's primary school, in Newham, east London, which topped The Sunday Times school league table last year, has banned girls under eight years old from wearing the Islamic headscarf in its classrooms.

It also instructed parents that children should not fast during Ramadan, when many pupils may have to sit summer exams.

Arif Qawi, chairman of governors at St Stephen's, added the Department for Education should "step up and take [the issue] out of our hands", particularly as governors suffered "a backlash" over the issue from some parents.

St Stephen's educates around 400 schoolchildren aged between five and 11, and was judged "outstanding" in its last Ofsted inspection report.

Qawi told The Sunday Times: "We did not ban fasting altogether but we encouraged them [children] to fast in holidays, at weekends and not on the school campus. Here we are responsible for their health and safety if they pass out on campus. It is not fair to us."

But he added: "The department [of education] should step up and take it out of our hands and tell every school this is how it should be.

"The same for the hijab, it should not be our decision. It is unfair to teachers and very unfair to governors. We are unpaid. Why should we get the backlash?"

Matter for individual schools

The governor added that although Muslim clerics he talked to said students should only fast when they reached puberty, some pupils as young as eight or nine were skipping school meals during Ramadan.

He said that, although some parents had been critical of the new rules, many Muslim parents had welcomed the move.

Headmistress, Neena Lall, said the school had introduced the changes to help students integrate into British society.

She said: "A couple of years ago I asked the children to put their hands up if they thought they were British. Very few children put their hands up."

However, the Department for Education said: "It is a matter for individual schools to decide how to accommodate children observing Ramadan, and to set uniform policies. We issue clear guidance on uniform and to help schools understand their legal duties under the Equality Act."