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Government doesn’t know how many schools are breaking the law on gender segregation

Some two years on from a court case on the matter, the Department for Education has admitted that it is still unaware of the number of schools that are illegally segregating pupils by gender. The admission was made in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Times Educational Supplement (TES) and raises concerns that many children and young people in England are receiving discriminatory education.

Earlier this year, the schools watchdog, Ofsted, warned that ‘countless’ mixed-sex state schools continue to enforce policies of strict separation between boys and girls in spite of a Court of Appeal ruling that such policies are unlawful. That landmark judgement, handed down in 2017, related to the Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham which operated a religiously-motivated policy of separating girls and boys from the age of nine upwards.

The school mounted an initially successful challenge to a damning inspection judgement stating that the policy particularly disadvantaged girls and young women and therefore contravened the Equality Act 2010. However, three Court of Appeal judges overturned this verdict, holding that, by segregating children by gender for all lessons, during break time, as well as for clubs and trips, the school did in fact cause ‘detriment and less favourable treatment for both male and female pupils respectively by reason of their sex’.

Following the ruling, schools with similar policies to those at Al-Hijrah were legally required to amend them. Indeed, in June last year, the DfE issued new guidance on gender segregation in mixed schools and has stated that, where there is evidence of wrongdoing, they ‘will not hesitate to take appropriate action’. However, in response to the TES‘s FoI request, the Department also said that it ‘does not hold a central record or list of schools that have been affected by the Court of Appeal ruling’, and it is not clear what action has been taken.

What’s more, when it was last inspected, Ofsted reported that Al-Hijrah ‘continues to operate an unlawful discriminatory policy of strict segregation by sex’ which, according to Luke Tryl, Ofsted’s former Director of Corporate Strategy, ‘[denied] girls the opportunity to have their lunch until after the boys had had theirs’. Other schools, such as Yesoiday Hatorah School in Manchester, are reported to be making plans to split into two single sex schools rather than adhere to the legislation.

Humanists UK’s Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented:

‘It is deeply troubling to learn that the Department for Education holds no information on the extent to which schools are discriminating against pupils on grounds of gender. Especially as, although officials claim they will act swiftly to stamp out practices which contravene the Equality Act, the schools the DfE already knows employ such practices continue to discriminate with impunity. Gender segregation in such settings is wrong because it is typically motivated by misogynistic attitudes and enables unequal treatment of boys and girls.

‘The Department must collect this data to develop a full and accurate understanding of the problem and use the information to ensure that no school treats pupils less favourably because of their sex.’

NOTES

For more information contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07 393344293.

Read our last news item on segregation at the Al-Hijrah school here:

https://humanism.org.uk/2019/01/31/two-years-on-from-court-ruling-girls-still-being-made-to-eat-after-boys-at-state-muslim-school/

Read our previous item on the Court ruling here: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/10/13/comment-faith-school-gender-segregation-unlawful-court-rules/

Read more about our work on gender segregation in schools here: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/12/01/humanists-uk-asks-ofsted-to-take-strong-stance-on-faith-schools-with-a-sexist-ethos/

Read more about our education campaigns work here: 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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