Pupils at Islamic school spoke out against segregation, High Court told
Pupils at an Islamic faith school have spoken out against the segregation of boys and girls, the High Court has been told by a schools inspector.
The inspector was giving evidence in a legal battle over a controversial Ofsted report on School X, which cannot be identified for legal reasons.
The inspector told Mr Justice Jay, sitting in London, that a number of pupils had told him they felt segregation "was having a negative effect on being prepared for life in modern Britain".
The inspector said: "One young woman referred to it as 'dumb'."
The inspector said boys had also mentioned segregation as "having a negative impact in terms of preparing them for life".
But not all pupils had agreed with that view, he said.
The inspector was giving evidence at the beginning of a challenge brought by School X's interim executive board over findings in the Ofsted report that it was an "inadequate school" and required special measures. The report criticises its policy for the segregation of boys from girls.
The board is disputing the report's findings and applying for a judicial review to have it quashed.
The judge was told the Islamic voluntary-aided school admitted pupils of both sexes between the ages of four and 16.
From Year 5 girls and boys are completely segregated for all lessons, break and lunchtimes, as well as for school clubs and trips.
The school cannot for the time being be named after a judge at an earlier hearing said identifying it would be likely "to generate a media storm and tensions and fears for parents and the local community".
The judge said if the school's legal challenge failed the interim order could be lifted and the report published.
The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is urging the court to reject the school board's legal challenge.
Helen Mountfield QC, appearing for the education watchdog, said the case involved unlawful sex discrimination in a mixed-sex school contrary to provisions of the 2010 Equality Act.
Ms Mountfield told the judge he had to decide whether "the complete gender segregation" inspectors had observed at the school meant school leaders were failing to protect the rights of pupils "to equal opportunities to learn and develop and take their place in society".
Ms Mountfield said: "That is the issue of principle that has ramifications beyond this case."
The complete segregation constituted less favourable treatment both for girls and boys because both were denied the chance to interact from the age of nine upwards.
"Both girls and boys suffer the loss of opportunity to learn how to socialise and in due course work with those of the opposite sex."
Ms Mountfield also argued the segregation policy contained "a necessary implication that girls are inferior to boys".
The QC said Ofsted's current approach had not been applied to the school in past Ofsted inspections and the watchdog had apologised because that had been "wrong in law".
Peter Oldham QC, appearing for the school governors, argued the judicial review application should succeed because Ofsted had wrongly "singled out" School X and taken an approach which was too broad and legally flawed.
Mr Oldham said it was relevant that there might be plenty of girls and boys who would say of School X: "I like it just the way it is."
He added: "Ofsted cannot march in and say there is detriment to everyone.
"It simply cannot be asserted that lack of the ability to consort with the opposite sex is a detriment."
Mr Oldham also argued: "It is wrong in law to say it is not acceptable for a parent to send a child to a school which segregrates pupils because of religious beliefs."
The law required that a factor to be taken into account when deciding on the provision of education for a child was the preference of the parents.
Mr Oldham said: "We know parents choose schools across a range of religions, and some of those schools separate boys and girls, not just Islamic schools."
The QC asked: "Does Ofsted really want to bring this whole type of school to an end? If so, what is its vires (power) for doing so? It does seem remarkable."
The hearing continues on Wednesday.