The schools inspectorate Ofsted is attempting to overturn a November 2016 High Court judgment which found that gender segregation in a Birmingham school did not mean either boys or girls were treated unfavourably.
The Court of Appeal case heard yesterday that a state-funded Islamic school in Birmingham unlawfully discriminated against pupils when it separated them by sex from age nine.
In an inspection in June 2016, Ofsted rated Al-Hijrah with its lowest grade of “inadequate” and said it should enter special measures. It was partly on the grounds that from the age of nine boys and girls were separated for all lessons, breaks, school trips and other activities.
The school challenged the inspection’s findings in a judicial review at the High Court last November. The judge, Mr Justice Jay, found that neither girls nor boys were treated less favourably by being segregated. “There is no evidence in this case that segregation particularly disadvantages women,” he said.
Jay agreed with a recommendation to put the school in special measures on the basis of other issues raised and disagreed that Ofsted’s inspectors had been biased.
Ofsted’s lead barrister, Helen Mountfield, argued in court that although boys and girls might not receive less favourable treatment generally, “there is discrimination against individual girls and boys at this school, because a girl who wishes to socialise with a particular boy, but can’t, is treated less favourably”. The segregation deprived girls of the ability to feel “comfortable and natural” around boys, she said.
Equalities legislation allows for entirely single-sex schools, or schools where the opposite sex is only allowed into sixth form. Within mixed-sex schools equality legislation allows some separation of classes.
In the High Court hearings, Al-Hijrah school argued that the gender segregation was one of its defining characteristics, and that the policy was clear to parents who wished to send their children there and to previous Ofsted inspectors, who had never raised it as a concern.
The hearing continues.