Ofsted ordered to amend report claiming gender segregation broke law

A school has lost its High Court challenge to overturn an Ofsted report placing it in “special measures”, although the watchdog has been ordered to amend its finding which said segregating pupils by gender was against the law.

An Islamic faith-based school, which for legal reasons can only be named as ‘School X’, was inspected by Ofsted last summer, following a visit from chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw in June.

Wilshaw was said to have expressed “firmly negative views about the practice of segregation” at the school during his visit and ordered an immediate inspection.

The subsequent highly-critical report placed the school in special measures, ruling that segregation of boys and girls amounted to unlawful discrimination

But the school was granted an injunction preventing publication of the report while it applied for a judicial review – with the backing of its local authority – on a number of claims.

Mr Justice Jay, in a court ruling published today, dismissed claims that the school was unfairly singled out by Ofsted and its inspection was biased.

However the judge did find that the Ofsted report was “based on the erroneous view that the claimant had committed unlawful sex discrimination”.

He ruled that Ofsted had not established the school discriminates against male and female pupils by denying them opportunities to interact with or learn from the opposite sex or by treating them as inferior.

The ruling said gender separation is one of the “defining characteristics of the school and [it made] no secret made of it”.

The court ruling said the school had “parallel gender streams” and operates similar to “two single sex schools on one site”.

Ofsted said it will now publish the report, but must amend the parts referring to segregation being unlawful. Both parties have been given leave to appeal the ruling.

In response, Wilshaw said in a statement today: “I do not believe that segregating children without an educational reason is in their best educational interests.

“As a society, we expect men and women to integrate freely and fully both in the workplace and in social settings.

“Here was a mixed-sex school where children were being kept apart on the grounds of gender. This segregation took place in all lessons, in the corridors, during breaks and lunchtimes and for all social and extra-curricular activities.”

He said Ofsted is charged with inspecting how well schools are promoting British values, adding: “In this respect, it was entirely reasonable for inspectors to consider whether a regime that denied boys and girls in a mixed school the opportunity to interact and socialise together was discriminatory and was failing to adequately prepare them for life in modern Britain after they leave school.”

Claimants said during the hearing that Wilshaw’s behaviour was “unacceptably hectoring, judgmental and disparaging, such as to come close to evincing personal animus or hostility”.

Witnesses for Ofsted said he was being “no more than robust and trenchant”. However Justice Jay said it was “unnecessary” for him to “resolve this difference in perceptions”.

Wilshaw added: “We are pleased that the court has rejected the unfounded claim that Ofsted unfairly singled out this school and that our conduct in relation to this inspection was biased. We also note that the judge has accepted that we found other serious concerns, including safeguarding, during this inspection that were unrelated to the segregation issue.”

Justice Jay found, irrespective of the segregation ruling, the school’s leadership and management would still have been rated inadequate “on the discovery of offensive books in the library and the failings in relation to safeguarding and record-keeping”.

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