Each day the courts are hard at work making determinations on a variety of scenarios to help people by interpreting the law in a progressive way. As such, the legal system is dependent upon decisions of the court to form part of the law and now and again, a case appears that has significant interest to everybody. As far as schools are concerned the Court of Appeal has recently determined such a case.
The School is a voluntary aided faith school for boys and girls aged between 4 and 16. It has an Islamic ethos and, specifically for religious reasons, believes the separation of boys and girls at a certain point in their development is obligatory (generally around Year 5). The policy, which was scrutinised by the court, was made public by the school and is apparent both to parents who might wish to send the children to it and to regulators.
Interestingly, although this was an Islamic school such a policy was operating within a number of Jewish schools with a particular Orthodox ethos and some Christian faith schools also.
This policy, of segregating learners, was scrutinised by the court. What the court found, was from an individual student’s perspective (whether that pupil was female or male) a pupil was treated less favourably if they were unable to learn and engage with the opposite sex and this amounted to discrimination. Each pupil is entitled to freedom from direct discrimination based on their sex, a protected characteristic under sections 4, 11 and 13 of the Equality Act 2010.
The case did not make any binding decision over single sex schools, nor did it look at the implications for independent schools who operate a diamond structure. However all schools should review the guidance for maintained schools; academies and independent schools on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of students that promote British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs. Schools should also always encourage students to respect other people, with particular regard to protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act 2010.
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