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Humanist UK comment: Faith school gender segregation unlawful, court rules

The segregation of girls and boys at a Muslim school in Birmingham has been deemed unlawful by the Court of Appeal in a ruling handed down today. The decision, which overturns the ruling of the High Court earlier this year, states that such segregation discriminates against both girls and boys, and is likely to force changes at a host of other faith schools in the UK that similarly segregate their pupils.

Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘We have raised the issue of gender segregation in religious schools for some time now, and we’re glad that this practice has finally been deemed unlawful. Segregation of this kind within schools reinforces damaging gender stereotypes, and does nothing to promote equality and respect between boys and girls. This is especially true given the historic place of women within certain religious communities. The court is absolutely right to identify this as discrimination, and we look forward to seeing Ofsted condemn such discrimination at other religious schools throughout England.’

Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham was found by Ofsted back in 2016 to be fostering a culture of prejudice in relation to girls, and the schools inspectorate received an anonymous complaint from one pupil immediately following one of its inspections claiming that boys and girls were ‘segregated all the time’. The pupil was ‘worried about going to college and not having the social skills to be able to speak normally to the opposite gender.’

Despite this, the school claimed that boys and girls were treated equally by the school, a claim subsequently upheld by the High Court, which noted that Ofsted had not presented any evidence that the segregation resulted in any unequal or detrimental treatment.

However, the Court of Appeal has today ruled that the segregation amounts to discrimination against both boys and girls. Explaining the reason for their decision, the court stated that:

‘The School’s policy prevents an individual girl pupil from interacting with a boy pupil only because of her sex; if she were a boy she would be permitted to interact with a boy pupil, and vice versa. It was reasonable for Ofsted to take the view that this policy is detrimental to each pupil as it adversely impacts upon the quality and effectiveness of the education given to them by the School. As a result of the policy each pupil suffers less favourable treatment by reason of their sex.’

The ruling is likely to have implications on other schools in the UK that similarly segregate boys and girls. Ofsted had made clear in the run up to their appeal that, if successful, ‘it will apply a consistent approach to all similarly organised schools’. This point was accepted by the court, although it suggested that ‘the schools affected should be given time to put their houses in order’ given the state’s historic failure to deal with such discrimination.

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on 0207 324 3078 or jay@humanism.org.uk.

Read the court of appeal’s judgment: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/judgment-interim-executive-board-of-al-hijrah-school-20171013.pdf

Read the court’s press release: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/summary-interim-executive-board-of-al-hijrah-school-20171013.pdf

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Court of Appeal to hear faith school gender segregation case’: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/07/10/court-of-appeal-to-hear-faith-school-gender-segregation-case/.

Read the Faith Schoolers Anonymous article: ‘Faith schools and gender segregation: a worrying trend: https://faithschoolersanonymous.uk/2017/04/faith-schools-and-gender-segregation-a-worrying-trend

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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