Segregation at Islamic faith school is ‘unlawful sex discrimination’

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An Islamic faith school’s policy of segregating boys from girls has been ruled unlawful by three Court of Appeal judges.

The judges found that the policy of separating children by gender from year five at Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham is unlawful sex discrimination.

The appeal judges said the school’s policy caused detriment and less favourable treatment for both sets of pupils by reason of their sex.

They therefore held that it was contrary to the 2010 Equality Act.

The school believes that total separation of the sexes from year five onward is necessary for religious reasons.

Children at the school between the ages of nine and 16 are separated for all their lessons, breaks, clubs and school trips.

The ruling overturned last year’s finding by a High Court judge that Ofsted inspectors were wrong to penalise the co-educational school for separating students.

Following the ruling Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman said she was “delighted that we have won this appeal”.

“The school is teaching boys and girls entirely separately, making them walk down separate corridors, and keeping them apart at all times.

“This is discrimination and is wrong.

“It places these boys and girls at a disadvantage for life beyond the classroom and the workplace, and fails to prepare them for life in modern Britain.”

During the appeal hearing, Peter Oldham QC, appearing for the school’s interim executive board said boys and girls at the school were “treated entirely equally while segregated”.

He argued that the policy at Al-Hijrah, which is maintained by Birmingham City Council, was lawful.

But the school’s argument that “separate but equal treatment by reason of gender cannot be unlawful discrimination, even it it is detrimental” was rejected by the judges.

The ruling will have implications for other schools that segregate pupils based on their sex.

The appeal judges noted that: “The school is not the only Islamic school which operates such a policy and that a number of Jewish schools with a particular Orthodox ethos and some Christian faith schools have similar practices.”

They said Ofsted had main it clear that they would apply a “consistent approach to all similarly organised schools”.

Ms Spielman said Ofsted will be “considering the ruling carefully to understand how this will affect future inspections”.

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