The United Kingdom’s chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has accused independent faith schools of segregating students and staff on the basis of gender. He claimed such practices are “actively undermining” British values.
In one case, staff at Rabia Girls’ and Boys’ School, a Muslim day school with 160 pupils, were segregated during whole-school training. Male teachers were designated to teach in one part of the school, while women were relegated to a separate part. There were also incidents cited in which male and female staff members were separated physically by screens.
According to Javier Espinoza of The Telegraph, the revelations come after concerns broke last year when state inspectors found four in five of England’s religious independent schools were deemed “inadequate” or in need of improvement. This April, the Department for Education requested an emergency follow-up inspection of three of these independent schools.
Sir Wilshaw’s inspection revealed that, despite urgings from the state, conditions at these schools had not improved. “This sort of behavior manifested by the leaders of this school clearly does not conform to the spirit of the equalities legislation which underpins the spiritual, moral, social and cultural standard,” Wilshaw wrote in a letter to UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan. He said the school would remain in the “inadequate” category despite improvements being made elsewhere.
Last year, the Rabia school was criticized after investigators accused the school of ingraining gender-based inequalities in its curriculum; inspectors found that female students lacked access to the same laboratory facilities as their male counterparts. In 2014, as RT News reports, guidelines were introduced by the government requiring all schools in England, including faith schools, to “actively promote fundamental British values to their pupils.”
The Department said that Rabia has been referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). “It is completely unacceptable for women to be treated less favorably than men, and the advice note we have received from Ofsted on Rabi Girls’ and Boys’ School is extremely concerning … The EHRC can consider whether the school has breached the Equalities Act, and we will consider carefully the inspection report on the school to determine what action to take against any potential breaches in independent school standards.”
Several other schools have been red-flagged by investigators for discriminatory practices. In November, investigators found that only way a female governor could contribute to meetings was through a doorway at the Darul Uloom Islamic High School. At the Al-Ameen Primary School, pupils were not protected from reading inappropriate literature about sexist views.
The checkered practices were not only present in Islamic schools, either. Reporters at The Daily Mail note that investigators tagged a Christian school, Cornerstone School, in Epsom after they found the school’s curriculum promoted “a limited view of the world because their education was not providing them with sufficient opportunities to learn about people with differing background and perspectives on their own.”
Predominately, however, watchdog groups are most concerned with the practices being uncovered in England’s Islamic schools. How these schools will be regulated will further complicate how the United Kingdom successfully integrates its increasing population of migrants from northern Africa and the Middle East.