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Ofsted Chief alerts Education Secretary to gender segregation in private religious schools

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw

Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw

The Chief Inspector of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw has written to the Education Secretary to raise his concerns about the gender segregation of staff and governors within private religious schools in England. Specifically, Sir Michael notes that his inspectors ‘continue to find that staff are being segregated because of their gender in Muslim independent schools’, echoing concerns he raised in a letter to Nicky Morgan last year. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has long campaigned against the segregation caused by ‘faith’ schools, both outside the gates and within, has welcomed Ofsted’s intervention.

The letter reveals that Ofsted inspectors carried out three emergency inspections of ‘independent faith schools’ in the last month. In one such school – the Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School in Luton in– inspectors reported that at their meeting the school ‘insisted on segregating men and women through the use of a dividing screen across the middle of the room’, and evidence was also found that male and female staff are segregated during whole-school staff training sessions’. Indeed, just last year the school was also criticised by Ofsted for, among other things, introducing a design and technology curriculum which ‘limits girls to activities on knitting and sewing’.

Stating that ‘any form of segregation, without a good educational reason, is likely to lead to an inadequate inspection judgement’, Sir Michael claimed that the introduction in 2014 of more robust independent school standards in relation to British values was clearly having little impact, and, in fact, such values were being ‘actively undermined’ by some ‘faith’ school leaders and governors.

This is the third time in recent months that the Ofsted Chief Inspector has written to Nicky Morgan about ‘faith’ schools. In November and December last year he wrote two ‘advice letters’ to raise concerns about the prevalence of illegal, unregistered religious schools in England, one of which revealed that ‘clear evidence of segregation’ was found by inspectors in a Muslim school in Birmingham, ‘with separate classrooms for boys and girls.’ The letters stated that such schools were teaching ‘misogynistic’ material and ‘failing to prepare [children] for life in modern Britain’.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘If schools are doing the best for their pupils, they should be promoting equality and integration rather than espousing discriminatory and deeply damaging notions of gender difference and inequality. Such segregation not only runs entirely counter to the values that schools are obliged to promote, but it also violates the aims of equalities legislation and is likely to foster very unhealthy gender stereotypes in the minds of pupils. We welcome Sir Michael’s intervention on this and we hope the Education Secretary will take the necessary action to ensure similar practices are not taking place in other schools.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk or 0207 324 3078.

Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter ‘Segregation in independent faith schools’: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/519478/260416_HMCI_to_SoS.pdf

Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s previous letter to the Education Secretary from December 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484458/151211_HMCI_to_Secretary_of_State_advice_note_on_3_unregistered.pdf

Read Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter to the Education Secretary from November 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unregistered-schools-ofsted-advice-note

Read more about the BHA’s work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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