The Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that gender segregation at an Islamic faith school is ‘totally unacceptable’ and has pledged to take action.
On Wednesday Ofsted published a highly critical inspection report in which Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School, in Luton, was slammed for segregating its male and female staff.
Inspectors from the schools watchdog ‘expressed concern’ when holding discussions with teachers earlier this month, as a screen was placed between male and female staff to keep them apart.
During the unannounced inspection Ofsted also found that male and female staff are kept separate during training sessions across the Luton school’s two sites – when training takes place on one site it is broadcast to the other over the internet.
The findings prompted Ofsted chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to write to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and the Department of Education subsequently referred the case to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Today the commission has pledged to crack down on the school.
EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: “Gender segregation of school staff is totally unacceptable in modern Britain.
“All schools have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 to prevent discrimination against their staff and students.
“Outside of acts of religious worship, segregating male and female staff at school meetings or training sessions is likely to amount to unlawful discrimination because it puts individuals at a disadvantage because of their sex.”
Ms Hilsenrath added: “We have just received a letter from DfE referring this case to us and we will look at it carefully before deciding what action to take to ensure this Luton school ends its practice of segregating male and female staff.
“Our guidance to universities on gender segregation makes it clear that gender segregation, such as seating men and women separately at an event, is not permitted outside of religious worship.”
Rabia Educational Trust, which runs the school, has defended itself over the report and claimed that it is being victimised by Ofsted.
In a letter to the Education Secretary it said: “We would like to say that we feel that we are being unfairly targeted and harassed by HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw who has undermined the professional reputation of six of his own inspectors who did not fail us previously or during this inspection for using a screen in a religious setting.
“We are absolutely shocked that someone of his standing has written such factually inaccurate statements about us.”