Claires Court, the Equality act and our new campus…

Since the passing by parliament of the Equality Act in 2010, society in general, and education in particular has had to adjust its steering more than somewhat. Here’s the starter for 10 from the Government’s own website:

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations. It sets out the different ways in which it’s unlawful to treat someone. Find out more about who is protected from discrimination, the types of discrimination under the law and what action you can take if you feel you’ve been unfairly discriminated against.

The act came into service in 2011, and had an immediate impact within education: It has three main elements; in carrying out their functions, public bodies are required to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act,
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it,
  • foster good relations across all characteristics – between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

There is so much more that I could write here, but in reality, when the the Court of Appeal in October 2017 held that complete segregation of girls and boys in a mixed-sex school is discriminatory on grounds of sex, per se the separation by gender caused detriment. Most of the diamond* schools in the country (circa 20) share the same campus and during breaktimes etc. the girls and boys can socially interact. In lessons and during other times of segregation, whilst the genders may be separated, at least the facilities are identical, so no discrimination through provision arises.

Claires Court was a boys’ school when in 1993 it acquired the Girls’ school, and saved the latter from closure. 26 years later, both boys and girls’sections are thriving, but the demand for girls places is circa 50% of boys because there are simply so many other independent girls schools around sharing the same catchment area. The school has carefully planned over the years how to ‘balance’ the differences in provision, and as the latest GCSE results indicate, there is little to separate the boys from the girls – both circa 90% 5 or more 4-9 Gcses a head. In their most recent inspection in January 2017, the Independent Schools Inspectorate gave us an excellent rating, and I hope they would today. Except of course the landscape has changed. Here is the Deputy Director of the Department for Education, Peter Swift, writing last month to us:

“However it is critically important that there is no discrimination in the way this provision is organised and delivered. As well as boys and girls having to have an equally wide range of subject choices, it is important too that the teaching is of the same quality and also that the facilities they have access to are equally good. Where a diamond school operates on a single site, this last point is not likely to be a problem because boys and girls will be using the same facilities — the gym, the IT suite, the chemistry labs, etc. But for a school that operates on separate sites this can present a prodigious problem. To comply with the law it would be necessary to ensure that neither site had facilities that were superior — or inferior — to the other. This is likely to be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. There is a theoretical alternative of moving the children from site to site so that they only ever use the same facilities, at either site (eg a gym at one site and an IT suite at the other, etc). But, depending on the distance between sites, this may present insuperable operational problems as well as being wasteful in terms of time, money and transport costs, as well as all the additional transport being deleterious to the environment.
Consequently it is likely that a diamond school that has traditionally operated from separate boys and girls sites may conclude that the only way that it will be possible to comply with the law will be to re-engineer their buildings so that provision for boys and girls is co-located in the same premises. “ You can read the whole letter here – http://schl.cc/5P

Right from the start of planning our new campus back in 2013, we were crucially aware of the existential threat arising from this legislation; whilst the AL Hijrah judgement forced everyone’s hands 2 years ago, reinforced of course by the DfE’s clear guidance from June 2018 that segregation per se caused detriment in schools, the writing has long been on the walls. The Independent Schools Standards Regulations demand that schools meet a whole raft of curricular, pastoral care, welfare, accommodation and leadership standards, and we’ve got to provide equality of opportunity and provision for our children at comparable ages. Wiser counsel than me have studied the form; here’s Kevin McDaniel, Director of Children’s Services on the matter in July:

“While the local authority does not have a duty to ensure that independent schools
comply with this guidance, in this context, I appreciate your point of view, that the
proposed consolidation of the Claires Courts School sites onto a single location is a
sensible way to comply with the guidance whilst still maintaining the chosen diamond model of education. I should however note that it is not the only way to achieve compliance with the guidance.”

Kevin McDaniel is right in suggesting other routes are open to us; for example we could apply to upgrade our sites to meet the mutual requirements of all, or we could move away from our single sex model from age 5 to 16 and go fully co-ed. Trouble is, since 1990, RBWM planning advice has directed against any further major development on the Senior Boys site, so there exists no option here to add Art textiles, food, or additional music facilities for senior boys, nor swimming pool, playing fields and the like. There are lots more examples, and not just for seniors but juniors too. All our arguments are fully rehearsed in our submission to the planning authority, and their judgement just published agrees with ours:

With regard to the above, evidence has been provided on the shortcomings of the existing school buildings and the challenges this puts in place for sustaining and improving educational standards in addition to complying with the Equality Act 2010. There is also evidence to demonstrate that alternatives in relation to addressing the shortcomings of the school buildings on the existing sites would present difficult challenges in terms of the practicalities and financially,
and there are no suitable or reasonably available sites that are sequentially preferable than the proposed site. Therefore, it is considered that the proposal would maintain choice in school places that may otherwise be lost. In accordance with paragraph 94 of the NPPF this should be given great weight to support the proposal and as part of the case for VSC which is assessed below.
” see here page 96, para 9.149

With only days to go until the planning meeting, it seems we are still having to explain and justify our reasons for bringing the school together onto one site; primary legislation has changed the educational landscape as it does from time to time. Over a SIX year period, we’ve consulted and cooperated through the planning process, and next Wednesday sees us able to have our application heard.
Go to clairescourt-newcampus.com to get involved.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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