Direct discrimination will not arise because of gender segregation

In the case of Interim Executive Board of X School v HM Chief Inspector of Education Children’s Services and Skills, the High Court has held that segregating school children on the grounds of sex at a faith-based school is not discrimination. While this case was not an employment matter, the Court considered the direct discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010  in detail.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills stated in an inspection report that segregation of female and male pupils is discriminatory, on the basis that it “perpetuates a historic view held by society of inferiority of women”.

However, the High Court disagreed on the basis that less favourable treatment could not be identified, ifthe treatment for both  groups was identical.

The Court decided that direct discrimination will not arise in these circumstances. To prove any discrimination, there would need to be a demonstration that the segregation of the groups was deliberately discriminatory (for reasons relating to historic views held by society about female status).

Ofsted also argued that there was a loss of opportunity for both sexes to socialise with the other sex. They claimed this meant they were deprived of learning to socialise confidently in preparation for interaction after leaving school. The court held that this did not lead to any form of discrimination. There was no difference between denying boys the opportunity to mix with girls and girls being denied the opportunity to mix with boys.

If it could not be proven that the separation was a result of the historic views held by society in relation to female status, thenthere would be no consideration of sex discrimination under the Equality Act.

The High Court has allowed the central issue –  whether  segregation will result in less favourable treatment – to be considered by the Court of Appeal. As such, permission for appeal was granted.