Feature

SINGLE SEX AND SEGREGATION

Al Hijrah school began in Birmingham Central Mosque in 1988, becoming a voluntary aided school in 2001 with a Muslim religious designation. Pupils are fully segregated from Year 5 onwards and parents have always been happy with this. Everything seems to have gone well in the early years, but in 2009, overall effectiveness was judged to be inadequate due to limitations to the KS3 arts and technology provision.

By 2010, after regular monitoring, the school was deemed to be developing effectively – benefitting from local authority support, with widening curriculum access and improved support for SEND students. In 2011, a subject inspection found science to be well led and effectively taught, although the report noted the need to improve boys’ achievement, particularly those of Pakistani ethnicity.

In March 2013, the school was judged to require improvement, based largely on the quality of teaching and learning. There were also issues with governance and finance – inspection revealed a £900,000 deficit. There was suggestion in the press that the money was diverted to build a sister school in Pakistan, although nothing has ever been proved. Since then, the school has been subject to 11 inspections.

In 2014, the governing body was replaced, not without opposition, by an interim executive board (IEB) appointed by Birmingham City Council. As far as the school managers and governors were concerned, they were doing OK. It was a school working hard to become effective, with the confidence of the majority of the parents in the community it served. In 2015, it came out of special measures.

That all changed quite suddenly in 2016, after a visit from Sir Michael Wilshaw who was in Birmingham to visit Trojan Horse schools, even though this particular school, as one with a religious designation, was not a Trojan Horse school. His prime concern appeared to be segregation, even though this had been part of the school’s structure in all previous inspections and had never been a cause for comment. Court papers show that the head and chair of the IEB found this meeting highly confrontational and staff felt they had been bullied. Just 8 days later, the school was subject to another inspection during which school leaders concluded that the agenda of the inspection team was ‘driven by a pre-determined conclusion’.

The school was deemed to be inadequate because the library contained books with ‘derogatory views about, and incited violence towards, women’ – because school leaders did not know that the books were there, the IEB was failing in its duty to protect students from extremist views. Inspectors also judged that segregation in a co-ed school was, of itself, discriminatory. When Ofsted refused to delay publication of the report pending discussion, the IEB secured a court order to prevent publication on the grounds that the findings were inconsistent with previous inspections and they were arrived at with no evidential basis. The High Court ruled that Ofsted had failed to evidence their claim and that segregation was not, of itself, discriminatory.

Ofsted appealed the ruling and, earlier this month, won its appeal. The Appeal Court judges decided 2:1 that segregation in a co-ed school contravenes the 2010 Equality Act, because boys and girls are disadvantaged equally by not being allowed to socialise. They acknowledged that neither group suffered discrimination in the quality of their education: their judgment related purely to the fact that segregation prevented students from being prepared for life in modern Britain. Only Lady Gloster dissented, saying that girls were unfairly disadvantaged, citing evidence such as the books in the library, excerpts of pupils’ written work and the fact that girls had to wait for their mid-morning snack until the boys had finished theirs. Ofsted, however, did not rely on any of this evidence, arguing instead that the disempowerment of women in wider society was reinforced by segregation in school.

The case throws up as many questions as it answers. Why, for example, did Ofsted suddenly decide to confront the issue of segregation in 2016? And why, despite protestations that this was not a religiously motivated matter, did Ofsted immediately signal its intention to move on Muslim, Jewish and Christian schools. What is that, if not religiously motivated?

Amanda Spielman almost immediately went on record to defend single sex education on the grounds that it prevents girls from self-selecting out of education. She said nothing about potential advantages to boys, as she should have done in the interest s of equality. Instead, Ofsted made Al Hijrah a matter of feminist ideology. The stark evidence was there in the form of literature that promoted violence against women. This alone should have been enough for Ofsted to act, but it was ignored in the clamour to promote women’s rights. Yet again, Ofsted appoints itself as Social Engineer in Chief, overlooking incitement to violence (which is evidenced) to promote a social agenda (which is not).

This is a form of feminism which arrogates to itself the right to claim equality and respect in every aspect of life – it plays to the current zeitgeist of individualism and in doing so creates a hierarchy of humanity. As so often, the Bible turns this on its head. It says that we are all bearers of God’s image, whether we are male or female. We are each equally loved and valued by God and so we should respect each other equally regardless of gender, not because of it.

It’s high time Ofsted stopped engineering society and used its time effectively to deal with evidenced issues such as incitement to violence (against any fellow human) and standards of teaching and learning. Schools should reflect society, not be used as catalysts to impose a singular ideological agenda upon it.