At least 10 Islamic schools in England are still segregating boys and girls in co-educational schools, while others are likely to be separating the genders for certain activities, despite a recent court ruling outlawing the practice. Details emerged in an appeal court judgment on Tuesday, which turned down an attempt by the Association of Muslim Schools (AMS) to join a legal action to seek leave to appeal to the supreme court for a review of the segregation ruling.
The request followed a judgment last month when three court of appeal judges found that Al-Hijrah Islamic school in Birmingham had caused unlawful discrimination by formally segregating girls and boys from the age of nine. The court heard that boys and girls were taught in different classrooms and were made to use separate corridors and play areas. The segregation policy also applied to clubs and school trips.
The judgment overturned an earlier high court ruling which found that Ofsted inspectors were wrong to penalise the school on the basis of an “erroneous” view that the segregation amounted to discrimination. In its successful appeal, Ofsted argued that the school had breached the 2010 Equalities Act. The AMS, which represents 133 Muslim faith schools including Al-Hijrah, said 10 of its members and probably other non-members still had formal segregation policies in place, while other schools segregated children for particular activities. Other faith schools were also likely to be implicated, it said.
The written judgment said the AMS chairman, Ashfaque Alichowdhury, told the court the association’s role was to ensure member schools complied with their legal obligations and acted in a way that was consistent with Islamic teachings and practices. “The court of appeal’s judgment may have created a conflict between these two fundamental requirements which compromises the association’s ability to fulfil what it understands are its purposes,” Alichowdhury said.
“The judgment also puts the segregating schools at immediate risk of challenge from statutory bodies and other interested parties. Clearly where there is a conflict, the schools and the association must obey the law. However, the association believes that this is an important issue and would welcome a review of the court of appeal decision by the supreme court.” The AMS also said the ruling had created uncertainty over future Ofsted inspections at affected schools, and complained of a lack of guidance from Ofsted or the Department for Education over segregation.
An Ofsted spokesperson said on Tuesday that any school potentially affected by the judgment could seek legal advice if required.
“In each case, the school’s individual circumstances would need to be assessed. And the DfE, as the registration body for schools, will support it to make any necessary changes. “We are discussing the implications of the judgment, and what they mean for future inspections, with the DfE.”
Refusing the AMS application to join the legal action, the judges said Al-Hijrah school, which was the subject and claimant in the proceedings, accepted the decision and was working with the council to implement it. “The school does not encourage or support the desire of AMS to obtain permission to appeal in order to overturn the decision.”