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Department for Education guidance: mixed-sex schools must not segregate children

Courts previously ruled that segregating schools internally by sex or gender was unlawful

New non-statutory guidance published today by the Department for Education (DfE) states that mixed-sex schools must not segregate children on the basis of the child’s gender, race or religion or belief. Humanists UK, which welcomed the court ruling last year that gender discrimination in religious schools is unlawful, has today welcomed this guidance.

The guidance makes it clear that ‘in a mixed school, any separation of pupils of either sex that denies them the choice or opportunity to interact socially, or to interact in an educational setting, with pupils of the other sex is likely to involve subjecting the pupils to a detriment because of their sex. This will be direct discrimination and will be unlawful unless it falls within one of the statutory exceptions contained within the Equality Act, even if done for religious or other bona fide reasons and even if the quality of the education provided to boys and girls is the same.’

The guidance follows a ruling in the Court of Appeal in November last year that Al-Hijrah School had been acting unlawfully in segregating boys and girls for the entirety of their school lives. The ruling stated that such segregation is unlawful because it discriminates against girls and boys equally, denying them the benefits that come from socialising and interacting with the opposite sex.

Disappointingly, after the ruling, one of the segregating schools suggested that the DfE will allow it to split into two single-sex schools.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘The production of this guidance is the culmination of a long campaign to ensure that both boys and girls in mixed-sex schools are not disadvantaged, and do not have their experiences of life or opportunities to relate to the opposite sex limited. because of their gender.

‘The guidance makes clear that mixed-sex schools have a duty to promote equality of opportunity between boys and girls in line with the Equality Act, and instituting a policy of segregation of the sexes fails to uphold that responsibility. We hope as a result of its publication that we will see an end to schools, particularly faith schools, enforcing gender segregation, and that schools will not be able to get around the ruling simply by splitting in two.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 0781 55 89 636.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigning on education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/

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.

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