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Michaela school wins High Court battle over prayer ban

Michaela Community School has won a High Court case brought by a pupil after a judge ruled any disadvantage to Muslim pupils caused by its prayer ban was “outweighed by the aims it seeks to promote in the interests of the school community as a whole”.

The judgment in favour of the free school in Wembley, north London, often referred to as “Britain’s strictest”, was handed down by Mr Justice Linden this morning, although he did rule in favour of the claimant for one lesser allegation.

The judge ruled that: “The disadvantage to Muslim pupils at the school caused by the PRP (prayer ritual policy) was outweighed by the aims which it seeks to promote in the interests of the school community as a whole, including Muslim pupils.”

It follows a two-day judicial review hearing in January, when lawyers for the Muslim pupil, who cannot be named for legal reasons, argued the ban breached equality laws and her freedom of religion, claiming it disproportionately impacts Muslim students.

But headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, the former government social mobility commissioner has said the ban was needed to restore “calm and order” and promote cohesion, after the court previously heard the school received threats, including a “bomb hoax”.

She implemented the temporary moratorium in March last year and it was made permanent with the backing of the school’s governing body the following month.

Pupils started praying in the playground in March 2023 and used blazers to kneel on after they were “prohibited” from using prayer mats, sparking an outcry when they were spotted by passers-by which led to an online petition and threats the court previously heard.

The school, where around half of its 700 pupils are Muslim, does not have a specific prayer room. Prayer rituals were not previously prohibited at the school.

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