The High Court has rejected assertions from Ofsted that a school’s practice of segregating female and male pupils amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Ofsted compiled a report on an Islamic school for boys and girls aged 4 to 16. It has a clear Islamic ethos, and pupils are segregated by gender from Year 5 onwards. (Segregation in this way is not unique to this school). Ofsted concluded that the school should be put in ‘special measures’ and the fact that male and female pupils were educated separately contributed to this. It said that the separation “reinforced notions of inferiority within the female gender”.

However, the Court found that both males and females are kept apart from each other, and so one is not subjected to less favourable treatment when compared to the other. It also found that there is no evidence to show that the female pupils were more affected by the segregation than the male pupils. Any disadvantage felt by one sex because of the segregation would be the same as the disadvantage felt by the other.

The judgment said: “The only basis for holding that segregation between the sexes reinforces notions of inferiority within the female gender is by contending, and then establishing, that this is, in effect, why Islamic schools in particular or faith schools, in general, carry out the practice. But Ofsted has not made that argument, and there is no evidence to that effect.”

The school, which could not be named, was still placed in special measures because of safeguarding issues, including books found in the library whose content appeared to support domestic violence towards females.

“Sex discrimination is, of course, unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, however, it must be shown that one sex is being treated unfavourably in comparison to the other. Ofsted was unable to show that, in this case.” – Education Business Partner, David Carey