Ofsted was wrong to penalise an Islamic faith school over its gender segregation policies because they affected girls and boys equally, a high court judge has ruled.
Ruling on an Ofsted report contested by the British school, which cannot be named, Mr. Justice Jay said that the criticism was invalid as it didn’t discriminate between the genders.
“Given that both girls and boys are denied the same opportunity of interaction with the opposite sex, it would be artificial to hold that each group has been discriminated against, in the sense of receiving treatment less favourable than the other. There is no evidence in this case that segregation particularly disadvantages women,” he said.
Three previous inspections by Ofsted failed to pick up on the segregation of pupils, The Guardian has reported.
But Ofsted argued in court that gender segregation would “reinforce notions of inferiority within the female gender”.
However, Jay disagreed. In his ruling he 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.”
He said that the fact that some Jewish and Catholic schools also operate similar policies was evidence that they weren’t discriminatory.
“Indeed, there is evidence before me of a particular Jewish school, operating on what is described as two campuses, which at its last Ofsted inspection in 2012 was rated outstanding across the board,” the judge noted. “From brief internet research, I have gathered that a number of Christian faith schools have similar practices.”
However, he has allowed Ofsted to publish the rest of its damning report on the school which places the institution in special measures, overturning a previous injunction granted on the basis that publication would cause the school “widespread and irreparable damage”.
The court also rejected the school’s contention that it had been unfairly targeted after a visit by Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, in which books approving of domestic violence were found in the library.
The court found that Ofsted would still have rated the school as inadequate regardless of gender segregation thanks to “the discovery of offensive books in the library and the failings in relation to safeguarding”.
Jay ruled that Ofsted was justified in placing the school in special measures because the books “contained views which are inimical to fundamental British values” in Ofsted’s view.
The court heard that the books claimed that a wife is not allowed to refuse her husband sex, and that women are “commanded to obey their husbands and fulfill their domestic duties”. They also gave tacit approval to a husband beating his wife, “provided that this is not done ‘harshly’”.
Jay said: “In my judgment it is obvious that leaders at the school conspicuously failed in allowing these books to enter, or re-enter, the library, and the report’s assessment to that effect cannot be impugned.”
Wilshaw said Ofsted would appeal against the ruling on gender segregation, saying he was “disappointed that the court has determined that the practice of completely segregating boys and girls in this publicly funded mixed-sex school does not amount to unlawful discrimination. I do not believe that segregating children without an educational reason is in their best educational interests.”