Prayer ban ruling a ‘victory for all schools’, says Katharine Birbalsingh

Katharine Birbalsingh is the headteacher of Michaela Community School
Katharine Birbalsingh is the headteacher of Michaela Community School - Geoff Pugh for the Telegraph

Katharine Birbalsingh has said a High Court ruling that a prayer ban is lawful is a “victory for all schools”.

Ms Birbalsingh, who is described as Britain’s strictest head teacher, said she introduced the prayer ban in March last year “against a backdrop of events including violence, intimidation and appalling racial harassment of our teachers”.

Commenting on Tuesday’s judgement, she said: “A school should be free to do what is right for the pupils it serves.

“The court’s decision is therefore a victory for all schools. Schools should not be forced by one child and her mother to change its approach simply because they have decided they don’t like something at the school.”

Michaela Community School, in Brent, north-west London, was ranked top in the country last year for “Progress 8”, a measure of how much a secondary school has helped pupils improve since primary school.

Its strict rules include silence in corridors, pupils ending every interaction with teachers with “sir” or “miss”, and a tracking system whereby pupils “must pay constant attention” during lessons.

01:53 PM BST

That’s all for today

Thanks for following our live coverage. Here is a brief summary of today’s events:

  • Mr Justice Linden ruled a prayer ban at Michaela Community School, in Brent, north-west London, to be lawful

  • Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher at the free school, said the High Court ruling was a “victory for all schools”

  • The mother of the pupil who brought the legal challenge said she was “profoundly dismayed by the case’s outcome”

  • The judge said the ban did not amount to an “interference” with the pupil’s right to religious freedom

  • Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, called the ruling a “victory against activists” trying to “subvert public institutions”

01:44 PM BST

Ruling a victory over those trying to subvert public institutions, says Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch has called the prayer ban ruling a “victory against activists” who are trying to “subvert public institutions”.

Responding to Katharine Birbalsingh statement on social media, which was posted after Mr Justice Linden’s judgement on Tuesday, the Business Secretary said: “This ruling is a victory against activists trying to subvert our public institutions. No pupil has the right to impose their views on an entire school community in this way.

“The Equality Act is a shield, not a sword and teachers must not be threatened into submission.”

She added: “Many want to smear the Michaela school because it is an extraordinary tale of academic success….and proves the Conservative’s free school programme gave families a genuine choice, raised standards and provided opportunity -in one of the most deprived areas of London.”

01:03 PM BST

Prayer ban restored ‘good relations within school’

Mr Justice Linden said evidence showed that since the prayer rituals ban was introduced “good relations within the school community have been restored”.

Speaking about the pupil who brought the case, the judge said: “I do not doubt that she has strong feelings, but she says that they are based on the whole of the events which have led to this claim... and on her views that she has been treated differently because she is a Muslim, that she is the victim of discrimination, and that she has effectively been told that she does not ‘properly belong here’, none of which is in fact the case.”

12:42 PM BST

Judges rules prayer ban not an ‘inteference’ to religious freedom

In his ruling, Mr Justice Linden said the ban on prayer rituals on the school’s premises was not an “interference” with the pupil’s right to religious freedom.

He said the student had “at the very least impliedly accepted” that she would be “subject to restrictions on her ability to manifest her religion” when joining the secular school.

The judge said the pupil could also perform “Qada” prayers - permitted by Islam to “make up” for missing prayers earlier in the day - “to mitigate the failure to pray within the allotted window”.

He accepted the prayer policy caused the pupil a “detriment”, but concluded it was “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, adding that the school was justified in deciding that there were practical difficulties in allowing indoor Muslim prayer during the school day.

12:28 PM BST

Telegraph readers weigh in on High Court judgement

12:10 PM BST

‘Have confidence in making decisions for your school,’ Education Secretary tells teachers

Gillian Keegan, Education Secretary, told headteachers to have confidence in making decisions for their school in the wake of the ruling.

She said: “The Michaela Community School is an outstanding school with a history in excelling in its outcomes for all pupils, many of whom are from some of the most disadvantaged parts of London.

“The government has always been clear that heads are best placed to take decisions on what is permitted in their school on these matters, to balance the rights of all with the ethos of the school community – including in relation to whether and how to accommodate prayer. This judgment confirms this.

“This should give all school leaders confidence in making the right decision for their school, while prioritising tolerance and respect between those of different faiths and none.”

11:50 AM BST

Pupil who brought challenge ‘very disappointed’

The pupil who brought the legal challenge said in a statement provided by law firm Simpson Millar: “I am obviously very disappointed that the judge did not agree with me.

“As is set out in the judgment, I do not agree that it would be too hard for the school to accommodate pupils who wished to pray in the lunch break.

“The school is very well run and generally very good at managing everything. The school doesn’t wish to allow pupils to pray, has chosen a different path and the judge has found in their favour.

“Even though I lost, I still feel that I did the right thing in seeking to challenge the ban. I tried my best and was true to myself and my religion.

“Being involved in this case has not been easy for me ... The teachers are very good here and I hope to do the best that I can. I am also grateful for the understanding that my non-Muslim friends at school have shown as to the issues that affect us.”

11:48 AM BST

Pupil’s mother ‘profoundly dismayed’ by outcome

The pupil’s mother said she was “profoundly dismayed by the case’s outcome”.

In a comment issued by law firm Simpson Millar, she said: “The case was rooted in the understanding that prayer isn’t just a desirable act for us - it’s an essential element that shapes our lives as Muslims.

“In our faith, prayer holds undeniable importance, guiding us through each challenge with strength and faith.”

She added: “My daughter’s impassioned stance compelled me to support her and I stand firm in that decision.

“Her courage in pursuing this matter fills me with pride and I’m confident she’s gained invaluable lessons from the experience.”

11:36 AM BST

Need for social cohesion outweighed disadvantage of prayer ban

Mr Justice Linden said there was a “a rational connection between the aim of promoting the team ethos of the school, inclusivity, social cohesion etc and the prayer ritual policy”.

He said: “The disadvantage to Muslim pupils at the school caused by the prayer ritual policy is in my view outweighed by the aims which it seeks to promote in the interests of the school community as a whole, including Muslim pupils.”

11:29 AM BST

Education Secretary backs High Court decision

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, has backed the High Court decison that a prayer ban at Katharine Birbalsingh’s school is lawful.

She said: “I have always been clear that headteachers are best placed to make decisions in their school.

“Michaela is an outstanding school and I hope this judgment gives all school leaders the confidence to make the right decisions for their pupils.”

11:19 AM BST

Verdict ‘a victory for all schools’

The judgement that a prayer ban at Michaela Community School is lawful has been hailed a “victory for all schools” .

Katharine Birbalsingh, the headteacher of Michaela Community School, said: “A school should be free to do what is right for the pupils it serves.

“The court’s decision is therefore a victory for all schools.

“Schools should not be forced by one child and her mother to change its approach simply because they have decided they don’t like something at the school.”

11:07 AM BST

Challenge against temporary exclusion upheld

Mr Justice Linden upheld the student’s challenge to a decision to temporarily exclude her from the school in a written judgement.

11:01 AM BST

High Court rules ban lawful

In an 83-page judgment dismissing the student’s case, Mr Justice Linden said: “It seems to me that this is a case ... where the claimant at the very least impliedly accepted, when she enrolled at the school, that she would be subject to restrictions on her ability to manifest her religion.

“She knew that the school is secular and her own evidence is that her mother wished her to go there because it was known to be strict.

“She herself says that, long before the prayer ritual policy was introduced, she and her friends believed that prayer was not permitted at school and she therefore made up for missed prayers when she got home.”

10:29 AM BST

Katharine Birbalsingh defence of prayer ban

Katharine Birbalsingh posted a defence of her school’s ban on “prayer rituals” on social media.

Taking to X, formerly Twitter, she said:

10:14 AM BST

What are the unique practices at ‘Britain’s strictest school’

Michaela’s practices and its “ultra-strict enforcement” of behaviour rules include:

  • Children cannot choose where they sit during lunch but are allocated to tables of six depending on their year and form. They first stand behind their chairs and chant poetry from memory with teachers then setting mandatory topic of conversation

  • Pupils must end every interaction with teachers with “Sir” or “Miss”

  • Pupils “must pay constant attention” to the teacher during lessons

  • Students move around the school’s narrow corridors in single file and in silence and can only acknowledge staff

  • Groups of more than four pupils are not allowed, including when in the school yard

10:02 AM BST

Who is ‘Britain’s strictest headteacher’ Katharine Birbalsingh

Katharine Birbalsingh, the headteacher of Michaela Community School, is at the centre of a legal challenge after she decided to ban prayer rituals at the secondary school.

Ms Birbalsingh has attracted a lot of media attention over the years for her outspoken views on education and “woke” culture.

In 2010, she made a damning speech on the state of England’s schools at the Conservative Party conference where she said standards had been “so dumbed down that even the teachers know it” and the education system was broken “as it keeps poor children poor”.

A few weeks after her speech to delegates at the Tory conference, Ms Birbalsingh left her post as deputy headteacher of St Michael and All Angels Church of England Academy in south London.

In 2014, she founded Michaela Community School – a free school which has been dubbed the strictest in the country.

09:55 AM BST

What has happened so far?

A high-achieving north London school, previously dubbed Britain’s strictest, is to find out whether a Muslim student has won a challenge against its ban on “prayer rituals”.

The pupil, who cannot be named, took legal action against Michaela Community School in Brent, claiming that the policy was discriminatory and “uniquely” affects her faith due to its ritualised nature.

She alleged that the school’s stance on prayer, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, was “the kind of discrimination which makes religious minorities feel alienated from society”, a judge was told.

The case against the free school was heard at the High Court in London in January.

Mr Justice Linden is due to issue his written ruling over the case today.

09:53 AM BST

Good morning and welcome

Good morning and welcome to The Telegraph’s live coverage of the High Court ruling over a prayer ban that has been imposed at a school.

A Muslim pupil has taken legal action against Katharine Birbalsingh’s Michaela Community School in Brent, north-west London, following the ban on “prayer rituals”.

Follow this blog for the latest updates.