Islamic school in Britain found guilty of sex discrimination for segregating boys and girls

LONDON (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - An Islamic faith school in Britain was found guilty on Friday (Oct 13) of sex discrimination for segregating boys and girls in lessons, on breaks, and making them walk down separate corridors, in a ruling that will affect other schools with separation policies.

Three appeal judges ruled the Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham in central England was discriminating against pupils contrary to the Equality Act, overturning a High Court ruling last year, but added that girl students were not more disadvantaged than boys.

Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of education watchdog Ofsted, welcomed the ruling, saying it was her organisation's duty to ensure children were properly prepared for the future and it was discrimination to keep them apart.

"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," Spielman said in a statement.

"Educational institutions should never treat pupils less favourably because of their sex, or for any other reason."

For religious reasons the voluntary-aided school, which has about 770 pupils aged between four and 16, believes total separation of the sexes from age nine onwards is obligatory.

The school declined to comment.

Spielman said the case had significant implications for gender equality and the ruling would be considered carefully to see how it would impact other school inspections. She has previously said about 20 other schools in Britain - Islamic, Jewish and Christian - have similar segregation policies.

The local authority, Birmingham City Council, said Al-Hijrah School was being held to a different standard to many other schools with similar arrangements across the country.

Spokesman Colin Diamond said the UK Department of Education had not published guidelines on gender separation and this had not been an issue at five previous inspections at Al-Hijrah, which was set up in 1988 in a mosque and has expanded since.

Local media reported that for 60 places every year the school receives about 1,000 applications, making it one of the most over-subscribed schools in the country.

"If it is national policy that schools practising gender separation are considered to be discriminating against pupils, then local authorities and the schools themselves clearly need to be told," Diamond said in a statement.

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