In HM Chief Inspector of Education v. Interim Executive Board of Al-Hijrah School, (EWCA, Oct. 13, 2017), the England and Wales Court of Appeal held that a Muslim school which admits both boys and girls, but for religious reasons separates them into sex-segregated classes, violates the Equality Act 2010. The opinion of Etherton, MR (joined by Beatson, LJ) concluded that the separation operates to discriminate against both boys and girls, saying in part:An individual girl pupil cannot socialise and intermix with a boy pupil because, and only because, of her sex; and an individual boy pupil cannot socialise and intermix with a girl pupil because, and only because, of his sex. Each is, therefore, treated less favourably than would be the case if their sex was different.They also point out:It is common ground that the School is not the only Islamic school which operates such a policy and that a number of Jewish schools with a particular Orthodox ethos and some Christian faith schools have similar practices. In a separate opinion, Lady Justice Gloster argued that on the facts of this case, it should be found that the school’s practice also has a more detrimental effect on girls than on boys. She said in part:One does not need to be an educationalist, a sociologist or a psychiatrist to conclude that a mixed sex school: (i.) which, whether intentionally or otherwise, tolerates an environment where extreme and intolerant contemporary views about the role and physical subservience of women, and the entitlement of men physically to dominate and chastise them, are on display, or available to read, in the school library; (ii.) whose teachers approve the expression by the pupils of gender stereotyped views about the roles of women as homemakers and child minders and the role of men as the breadwinners; (iii.) where girls are always required to wait for an hour during the school day so that the boys can take a break first; and (iv.) where no, or no sufficient, consideration is given to promoting equal opportunity, is a school where a strict sex segregation policy subjects girls to a greater risk of extreme and intolerant views and is likely to reinforce or create misogynist attitudes amongst the boy pupils towards them.She also points out that the Equality Act contains an exception for single-sex schools, i.e. schools that only admit students of one sex.The Court also issued a press summary of its decision. Schools Week reports on the decision.
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