Religious schools may split in two to avoid Ofsted punishment after Court of Appeal ruling
Religious schools which separate boys and girls into different classes may split in-two in order to avoid punishment from Ofsted, it has emerged.
Headteachers have requested urgent clarification from the Government on whether their current practices will fall foul of the regulator after an Islamic school was judged to be breaching equality laws earlier this month.
The Sunday Telegraph has obtained a letter sent by one headmaster to parents at a north London Jewish school, informing them they may be forced to split into single sex schools amid a crackdown on gender discrimination.
It follows the Court of Appeal judgment last week, which ruled that co-educational schools cannot segregate pupils based on gender.
The ruling means that Al-Hijrah School, an Islamic centre in Birmingham, must end its policy of “complete segregation”, which previously stopped boys and girls from interacting at any stage of the school day.
The decision was welcomed by Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, who said that the practice had placed “boys and girls at a disadvantage for life beyond the classroom and the workplace”.
However, the judgment is believed to have far wider implications for religious schools across the country, with Ofsted confirming there are at least 20 schools which it believes fall foul of equality laws.
There are primary and secondary schools who may be caught up in thisJudith Nemeth, head of the National Association for Jewish Orthodox Schools
In the aftermath, Hasmonean High School, an Orthodox secondary in the London borough of Barnet, has written to parents to warn that it may now be forced to separate into single sex schools.
In a letter seen by this newspaper, headmaster Andrew McClusky admitted that the ruling may have “specific implications” on how the school functions.
But rather than comply with Ofsted’s demands, the school has written to the Department of Education seeking clarification, and may split if they are now judged to be breaching equality laws.
“The judgment may well mean that we have to go through a consultation process with stakeholders to separate into two separate single sex schools under one multi-academy trust,” he wrote.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, claimed that schools which tried evade scrutiny by Ofsted would still fall foul of the law if they were found to be providing an inferior education to female pupils.
“If a school like Al-Hijrah splits and the educational experience at the resultant girls’ school is different to that which is enjoyed at the equivalent boys’ school, the exemption found in the Equality Act is unlikely to allow for this,” he added.
“It would simply be a single-sex school providing an education that discriminates against its female pupils on the grounds of their gender.”
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Judith Nemeth, head of the National Association for Jewish Orthodox Schools (NAJOS), confirmed that a “handful” of schools were now in discussion with the DfE over their futures.
“We are waiting to hear from the DfE on what their guidelines are going to be in respect of the judgment. However, there are primary and secondary schools who may be caught up in this,” she said.
“Our schools have worked within the law for many years, and many are rated outstanding. All the sticking points at Al Hijrah are not applicable to our schools. We want to remain within the law while also upholding our religious ethos.”
An Ofsted spokesman said that the recent court ruling had made clear that “total segregation” in mixed schools failed to “properly prepare” pupils for life in “modern Britain”.
A DfE spokesman added: “The department’s long-standing position is that mixed schools should only separate children by gender in very limited circumstances where this can be justified and they can demonstrate that no pupil is disadvantaged by virtue of their gender.
“We expect all schools to comply with the law, and it is primarily for individual schools to consider what action they might need to take to comply with the law. The department will support schools to make any necessary changes.”