Segregation based on gender not discriminatory

28.11.2016

The High Court has held in The Interim Executive Board of X School -v- HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2016 that a faith school’s policy of segregating boys and girls from the age of 9 was not directly discriminatory.
Following an inspection in June 2016, Ofsted had produced a report which criticised a number of aspects of the school, but in particular the segregation policy (notwithstanding the fact that it had the parents’ support). In Ofsted’s view the policy limited its pupils’ social development and was unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
The Court disagreed; the policy was not directly discriminatory. Both sexes were denied the opportunity to interact with the other, and the denial of the opportunity to mix with the opposite sex was applied equally to both sexes. While the treatment could be detrimental, it was not less favourable to either gender, as they were treated the same. Ofsted argued that the segregation promoted social and cultural stereotypes about the roles of women in society which would generate a feeling of inferiority. However the Court rejected this argument as it had not been demonstrated on the facts. To say that segregation necessarily creates such a feeling of inferiority is “too broad and sweeping an assertion” to make in a multi-cultural society (especially where segregation is not enforced, but is in fact chosen by parents).
Although not in an employment context, this case is interesting because the application of the Equality Act 2010 would be the same in the workplace. As it is an issue of public importance, the Court has granted permission to appeal