A high court judge has been slammed for giving special protection to a strict Islamic school which is trying to quash a highly critical Ofsted report, forcing the press to censor its name and location.
What has been labelled “School X” caters for children from ages four to 16 and separates boys and girls from age ten, for all lessons, lunchtimes, clubs and trips. Inspectors rated it as “inadequate”, claiming the enforced gender segregation policy made girls feel inferior.
Pupils at the taxpayer-funded institution even told inspectors they did not want single-sex lessons because it “wouldn’t prepare them for modern life in Britain”.
However, the school’s governance is unhappy with the findings and is challenging Ofsted’s assessment in court.
But parent and taxpayers are being kept in dark about the case, as judge Mr. Justice Stuart-Smith banned media from naming the school, insisting that it would be likely “to generate a media storm and tensions and fears for parents and the local community”.
Members of Parliament have slammed his decision for violating the principle of “open justice”, and a prominent Christian blogger has argued that other faith schools rated badly have not been offered the same protection.
— Archbishop Cranmer (@His_Grace) September 29, 2016
“When the Durham Free School and Grindon Hall Christian School were excoriated by Ofsted last year for a raft of educational deficiencies (not least of which was failing to promote ‘British values’ by not teaching what Muslims believe and what lesbians do), they were very publicly named and shamed”, writes Archbishop Cranmer.
However, “when Muslim School X (it may not be named) is deemed to be inadequate, the Ofsted report must be quashed and the school shielded from public shame”, he said.
“No doubt using taxpayers’ money to fund its expensive High Court action”, he adds, asking: “How much does judicial review cost? How is this not a matter of public interest? Why are parents not permitted to know how this school treats girls differently from boys?”
Former Lib Dem MP John Hemming, who has campaigned on free speech, had similar reservations. He told the Daily Mail:
“I’m not a fan of secret justice. People have a right to challenge the decisions of regulators but that should happen in open court. The justice system needs transparency. It’s important that people understand what’s being done with public money.”
Labour MP Khalid Mahmood added: “I’m alarmed about the secrecy in this case. If you are sending your child to a school, you as a parent have a right to know what is going on.
“These steps might be taken if it’s a matter of national security or there is a risk to an individual’s life, but this does not apply here. The school has a right to challenge Ofsted and that is what open justice is all about.
“However, parents will want to know where they are getting the money to do that and what effect that will have on the school if they lose that money.”