High Court upholds Michaela School ban on prayer rituals

Michaela Community School, Wembley

The High Court has ruled that Michaela Community School in Wembley was within its rights to ban its Muslim pupils from praying.

Michaela School was taken to court by a Muslim girl (who has remained anonymous for legal reasons) over the policy, which she argued was discriminatory.

But the academically successful secondary school told the High Court that allowing prayer rituals risked “undermining inclusion” among pupils.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Linden found that:

  • The pupil and her parents had chosen the school knowing of its strict regime and were able to move to a suitable school which would allow her to pray at lunchtime.
  • The disadvantage to Muslim pupils at the school was outweighed by the aims which it seeks to promote in the interests of the school community as a whole, including Muslim pupils.
  • The headteacher had not acted unfairly in failing to ask the claimant for her version of events before excluding her for two days on March 23, 2023. The headteacher’s decision was based on the evidence of a senior teacher that the claimant had been extremely rude and defiant towards her in front of other pupils, and the headteacher was fully entitled to accept the teacher’s account.
  • The headteacher acted unfairly in excluding the claimant for five days on April 28, 2023 on the basis of what she was told by a teacher after an investigation which did not include asking the claimant for her account.

Justice Linden said: “The claimant at the very least impliedly accepted, when she enrolled at the school, that she would be subject to restrictions on her ability to manifest her religion…

“She knew that the school is secular and her own evidence is that her mother wished her to go there because it was known to be strict.

Katharine Birbalsingh. Pic: Jørgen Schyberg. Wikimedia Commons License.

“She herself says that, long before the prayer ritual policy was introduced, she and her friends believed that prayer was not permitted at school and she therefore made up for missed prayers when she got home.”

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Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh said in a statement on X that a school “should be free to do what is right for the pupils it serves.”

She added: “Schools should not be forced by one child and her mother to change its approach simply because they have decided they don’t like something at the school.

“If parents do not like what Michaela is, they do not need to send their children to us.”

Following the ruling, the student said in a statement that she was “disappointed.”

“As is set out in the judgment, I do not agree that it would be too hard for the school to accommodate pupils who wished to pray in the lunch break,” she said.

“The school is very well run and generally very good at managing everything. The school doesn’t wish to allow pupils to pray, has chosen a different path and the judge has found in their favour.

“Even though I lost, I still feel that I did the right thing in seeking to challenge the ban. I tried my best, and was true to myself and my religion.”

She said she planned to remain at the school and focus on her GCSE exams.

“I am grateful for the understanding that my non-Muslim friends at school have shown as to the issues that affect us,” she added.

Michaela Community School, according to the headteacher, “aggressively” promotes integration between pupils from different faiths, cultures and ethnic backgrounds whilst they are at school as well as minimising social distinctions between them.

About half the school’s roughly 700 pupils are Muslim. In March 2023, up to 30 students began praying in the school’s yard, using blazers to kneel on, the High Court heard.

The school introduced the ban in the same month due to concerns about a “culture shift” towards “segregation between religious groups and intimidation within the group of Muslim pupils.”

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