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Faith school in judicial review of Ofsted inspection

An Ofsted inspection has been successfully challenged by an Islamic faith school after the school brought a judicial review in the High Court.

The school, a voluntary aided faith school for children between 4 and 16, segregates boys and girls from the age of 9 specifically for religious reasons.

The segregation policy is clearly set out on the schools website and in their admission criteria. It is, the school believes, one of their defining characteristics.

Following the statutory inspection in June 2016, Ofsted produced its report and placed the school in special measures after identifying leadership and management failings. There were also safeguarding concerns raised over offensive books in the library, but the main issue raised by Ofsted was the segregation of the pupils.

Inspectors viewed the segregation of boys and girls as discriminatory, despite the fact that none of the three previous Ofsted inspections had raised issues with the schools segregation policy.

The Ofsted report noted that segregation by sex would “reinforce notions of inferiority within the female gender”.

The school applied for an urgent injunction, barring Ofsted from publishing the report, which they said would have caused it “widespread and irreparable damage”.

There then followed an application by the school for a judicial review on the grounds that Ofsted had acted unlawfully in changing its position on segregation, without giving proper (or any) notice to the school.

The high court, in reviewing the application found that the school was not unique in its segregation methods. Islamic faith schools are not the only ones to segregate boys and girls, some Jewish faith schools, and some Christian faith schools also observe the practice.

There was no evidence that girls in faith schools received lower quality education than the boys. Neither did the practice fall foul of the Equality Act 2010 as segregation, without more, cannot be viewed as discrimination.

The judge, Mr Justice Jay, in his ruling commented: “Given that both girls and boys are denied the same opportunity of interaction with the opposite sex, it would be artificial to hold that each group has been discriminated against, in the sense of receiving treatment less favourable than the other. There is no evidence in this case that segregation particularly disadvantages women.”

Angela Sandhal, Education and Judicial Review solicitor commented on the case: “The case touches on an important legal point about whether gender segregation in schools can cause discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The court essentially found that neither gender is treated “less favourably” than the other therefore there could be no discrimination under the legislation.  What the case is not about is the merits of gender segregation more generally”.

 

 

 

 

 

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