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Michaela school taken to High Court over prayer ban

Michaela Community School, frequently referred to as “Britain’s strictest”, is facing a High Court challenge from a pupil over its policy banning prayer rituals.

The free school in Wembley, north London, is subject to a judicial review over the policy, brought by an affected Muslim pupil who cannot be named for legal reasons. 

Issues with the prayer ban came after an incident in March last year involving pupils praying in the playground, the Royal Courts of Justice in London heard ahead of the judicial review starting this afternoon.

Katharine Birbalsingh

A petition was launched in opposition, reportedly demanding that the school provide a prayer space for students.

The court heard threats had been made against the school, including a “bomb hoax”.

It was reported in 2016 that the school did not have a prayer room and did not allow prayers on its site.

Lawyers for the school had applied for the proceedings to be heard in private. Failing that, they wanted details such as the name of the school and its headteacher – the outspoken Katharine Birbalsingh – to be non-reportable.

However, after representations from members of the media, including Schools Week, Mr Justice Linden ruled that the proceedings must be heard in public. 

Judge denies anonymity for school

Jason Coppel KC, representing the school, had argued that public proceedings and wider publicity around the prayer ban policy “would give rise to a real and immediate risk of harm to the headmistress, school staff, and potentially pupils at the school”.

But Mr Linden said: “I do not accept the that the evidence in this case shows a risk to the lives or safety of members of the school staff or its wider community which would justify holding this hearing in private.”

Michaela School
Michaela School

He accepted the application for the claimant – a pupil to be referred to as “TTT” –  and another person involved in the litigation, to be referred to as “UUU”, but he ruled that the school and the local authority can be named.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman was founding chair of the free school, which opened in 2014.

Michaela regularly tops the national league tables for exam results. It has been dubbed the strictest school in the country, with silent corridors and other controversial policies such as ditching SEND labels and giving detentions for failing to have a pen.

Schools Week revealed last year how Birbalsingh quit as the government’s Social Mobility Commission chair, saying her controversial opinions “put the commission in jeopardy” and it is doing “more harm than good”.

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