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DfE allows gender segregated faith school to split into two single-sex schools

The DfE and Ofsted must ensure that the new single-sex religious schools do not teach a discriminatory curriculum

A religious school in London that segregates girls and boys for the entirety of their education will be allowed by the Department for Education (DfE) to split into two single-sex schools to avoid criticism from Ofsted, it has been confirmed. The decision follows a judgment handed down by the Court of Appeal in October deeming such gender segregation at a Muslim school in Birmingham as unlawful. Humanists UK, which has been raising the issue of gender segregation in religious schools for some time, believes that the decision risks making the court’s ruling redundant.

In the wake of the court’s ruling, Ofsted made clear that it would be taking action against ‘all similarly organised schools’ so as to ‘make sure that all schools properly prepare children for life in modern Britain’. One such school is Hasmonean High School, an Orthodox Jewish secondary school in Barnet. In an email to parents seen by Humanists UK, the Executive Headteacher of Hasmonean, Andrew McClusky, states:

‘I would like parents to be aware that I have now heard from the Department for Education regarding the outcome of the specific implications for Hasmonean of the recent judgement regarding the segregation of the sexes in coeducational schools. The DfE will require Hasmonean to de-amalgamate into two separate schools but there will be no further implications for the school other than this.’

If true, the DfE’s decision to allow Hamsomean to split into two single-sex schools is likely to raise questions as to what impact the court’s ruling will have. Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman reacted to the ruling by noting that ‘Educational institutions should never treat pupils less favourably because of their sex’, adding that segregation places ‘boys and girls at a disadvantage for life beyond the classroom and the workplace.’ However, in light of the DfE’s decision, it is not yet clear how allowing segregated schools to split will do anything to change this.

Indeed, it is also not clear if equalities legislation would allow for this. Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘The exemption in the Equality Act 2010 allowing single-sex schools to discriminate on grounds of gender only relates to school admissions, and does not allow for discrimination in any other aspect of school life. If a school splits into two separate single-sex schools, but then provides an education that discriminates against its pupils by reinforcing gender stereotypes, for instance, this is likely to be unlawful.  

‘The Department for Education therefore needs to be very careful about allowing segregated religious schools to simply become separate single-sex schools, without any assessment of what the pupils in those schools will be taught. Single-sex schools are not inherently problematic. But if becoming a single-sex school effectively puts an end to any scrutiny over the nature of the education that girls in these religious communities are getting vis a vis boys, it could very well mean that the girls end up in a worse situation as a result of the judgment, rather than a better one.

‘In the case of Hasmonean, and all other schools affected by the court’s recent judgment, we hope the Government will put the educational experience of pupils, and particularly girls, at the centre of any decisions that it makes.’

Notes

For further comment of information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on 02073243078 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 ‘Faith school gender segregation unlawful, court rules’: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/10/13/comment-faith-school-gender-segregation-unlawful-court-rules/

Read Humanists UK’s 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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