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Islamic school’s sex segregation unlawful: UK court

A British court on Friday ruled an Islamic school in England is flouting the law by completely segregating boys and girls.

Schools regulator Ofsted, which brought the challenge, said the Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham, central England, was failing to prepare its pupils for life in modern Britain.

The Court of Appeal ruling overturns last year’s High Court finding that Ofsted was wrong to penalise the school on the basis that its segregation amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Friday’s ruling will affect around 20 other state-funded schools in England where boys and girls are given completely segregated education.

The appeal court judges said that other Islamic, Orthodox Jewish and some Christian schools had similar practices.

The Al-Hijrah school completely segregates boys and girls from the ages of nine to 16, not just for lessons but also for breaks, clubs and trips, for religious reasons.

The Court of Appeal judges held that the policy caused detriment and less favourable treatment for both male and female pupils by reason of their sex, and was therefore contrary to the 2010 Equality Act.

State schools which similarly segregate pupils could now be found in breach of equality laws if they do not alter their policies.

Ofsted said it was delighted by the ruling against Al-Hijrah.

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

“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.”

Peter Oldham, lawyer for the school’s interim executive board, said boys and girls were “treated entirely equally while segregated”, and argued that was lawful.

Ofsted did not claim that separation was discrimination until 2016, he added during the court hearing.

But the judges said they did not accept the argument that “separate but equal treatment by reason of gender cannot be unlawful discrimination”.

The ruling only affects mixed schools and has no impact on separate boys’ and girls’ schools.

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