AN ISLAMIC faith school's policy of segregating boys from girls is unlawful sex discrimination, Court of Appeal judges have ruled today.
Three judges in London assessed the case, seen as raising fundamental questions over pupils being taught ''British values''.
A High Court judge ruled in November last year that Ofsted inspectors were wrong to penalise the mixed-sex Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham on the basis of an ''erroneous'' view that segregation amounted to unlawful discrimination.
The judge, Mr Justice Jay, ruled that there was "no evidence in this case that segregation particularly disadvantages women".
But Ofsted went to the Court of Appeal in July to challenge the High Court's decision that the Al-Hijrah policy of separating the sexes from year five does not constitute discrimination on grounds of sex under the 2010 Equality Act.
And today the court ruled in favour of Ofsted's appeal.
Lawyers for its chief inspector Amanda Spielman argued that the policy is unlawful and segregation leaves girls ''unprepared for life in modern Britain''.
Helen Mountfield QC, representing Ofsted, asked the appeal judges to rule that Mr Justice Jay ''erred in concluding the gender segregation observed in this school is not discriminatory''.
She told the court: "If boys and girls in a school which is registered as a mixed-sex school lose the opportunity to work and socialise confidently with members of the opposite sex, as Ofsted says they should do, they will go into the world unprepared for life in modern Britain where they are expected to be able to work and socialise in mixed-sex environments.''
Segregation was particularly detrimental to girls because females were ''part of a group with the minority of power in society'', Ms Mountfield added.
She said Al-Hijrah was an Islamic voluntary aided school which admits pupils of both sexes between the ages of four and 16.
From year five, however, boys and girls were completely segregated for all lessons, as well as break and lunchtimes and for school trips and all school clubs.
Martin Chamberlain QC, appearing for the Education Secretary, said the High Court had been wrong to hold that the school's policy of complete segregation, which had been adopted for religious reasons, was not direct sex discrimination.
He told Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, Lady Justice Gloster and Lord Justice Beatson: ''Parliament has made no exception permitting segregation by sex of any sort in a co-educational school.''
The Equality and Human Rights Commission also supported Ofsted.
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