Response to High Court judgement
Birmingham City Council response to Al Hijrah school court ruling
Colin Diamond, corporate director of children and young people at Birmingham City Council:
“We took this action because this Islamic school is being held to a different standard to many other schools with similar arrangements across the country. While we may not all agree with their practices, as is made clear in the judgement* there are many other faith schools around the country that practice gender separation, none of which have been downgraded by Ofsted because of this.
“This case was always about fairness and consistency in the inspection process. We would therefore highlight comments made in this judgement about the secretary of state’s and Ofsted’s ‘failure to identify the problem’ and that in inspections over many years they have ‘de facto sanctioned and accepted a state of affairs that is unlawful’.**
“We have a strong history of encouraging all schools to practice equality in all its forms and would robustly tackle any discrimination, but the issue here is about schools being inspected against unclear and inconsistent policy and guidelines. This is not a case where boys and girls were being treated differently. Ofsted found that boys and girls were treated equally.
“If it is national policy that schools practising gender separation are considered to be discriminating against pupils, then local authorities and the schools themselves clearly need to be told so they know what standards they are being inspected against.
“This wasn’t the case here as the DfE does not publish guidelines on gender separation and this has not been an issue at five previous inspections at Al Hijrah. It is set out clearly in its published admission arrangements to which neither the DfE nor Ofsted has ever objected, prior to this case.
“We would only take legal action in extreme circumstances. We made several attempts to resolve this with both the DfE and Ofsted but they refused to engage.
“This is not about one school, one community or one faith but about making sure there is a clear policy applied fairly and consistently. While this judgement does not directly affect single-sex schools, due to legal exemptions, there is clearly a national debate to be had around their future.
“There are other issues mentioned in the judgement and we would stress that we join the judges in condemning the fact that certain books were on display in the school library.”