In the recent case of HMCI v. The Interim Executive Board of Al-Hijrah School, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s finding that a school’s complete gender segregation of pupils from year five onwards was not direct sex discrimination.
The Muslim faith school embroiled in this case teaches male and female pupils collectively for the first five years and then segregates them by gender for the remainder of their education.
The school was graded “inadequate” by Ofsted and heavily criticised for its gender segregation, which Ofsted stated was unlawfully discriminatory. Male and female pupils were being taught in different classrooms and had to use separate corridors and play areas. This denied the pupils the opportunity to mix with the opposite sex, which was a detriment enforced because of their protected characteristic of sex.
Last year, the High Court held that the segregation did not give rise to discrimination because the pupils were all treated the same. However, the Court of Appeal disagreed and stated that the segregation prevents pupils of either gender from interacting, leading to a detriment by reason of their sex. The fact that the school’s policy means both genders are suffering the detriment does not mean that there is an absence of less favourable treatment under the Equality Act 2010.
It is anticipated that this ruling will have implications for around 25 other mixed schools in England which adopt similar policies by segregating pupils based on their gender. It is likely these schools will have to revisit their policies in the wake of this judgment to avoid facing similar proceedings.
To find out more about this case, please follow this link: HMCI v. The Interim Executive Board of Al-Hijrah School