Mixed-sex schools in England should not generally separate pupils by sex or faith, the government has said. The National Secular Society reports
In new non-statutory guidance, the Department for Education (DfE) has advised schools not to segregate children by characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010, which include faith, sex and race.
The guidance comes in the wake of a landmark ruling in the Court of Appeal last year that an Islamic school’s policy of segregating boys from girls amounted to unlawful sex discrimination. Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham segregated boys and girls from year five upwards for religious reasons for all lessons, break and lunchtimes, school trips and school clubs.
The guidance says schools may take proportionate action when they reasonably think girls or boys suffer a disadvantage related to their sex, have different needs or participate disproportionately little in an activity.
Schools will be allowed to use single-sex sports teams on the basis of physical disadvantage, provided there are comparable sporting activities on offer for the other sex. They remain obliged to provide separate toilet and washing facilities for boys and girls aged eight and over. Existing statutory exceptions also allow schools to provide separate boarding accommodation.
Alastair Lichten, the National Secular Society’s education and schools officer, said the guidance was “mostly just common sense interpretation of existing equalities legislation”.
But it’s disappointing that the guidance doesn’t explicitly address RE. Gender segregated RE implies that students are being prepared for religious roles, rather than being educated about religion and beliefs.”
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