Michaela School’s founder and head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh

A Muslim student has lost a High Court challenge agains her school’s prayer ban.

The High Court heard that about half of the school’s 700 students are Muslim, and in March 2023, approximately 30 students began praying in the schoolyard, using blazers as prayer pads.

The student, attending Michaela School in Brent, took legal action against the policy, arguing it constituted a discriminatory ban on prayer.

The non-faith secondary school, led by it’s founder and head teacher Katharine Birbalsingh, defended its position in court, stating that permitting prayer rituals could potentially disrupt the inclusive environment among students.

The ban was implemented within days saying the ban was in response to concerns about a perceived “culture shift” toward religious segregation and intimidation within the group of Muslim pupils.

Mr Justice Linden, in a ruling, rejected the student’s challenge.

In an 83-page judgment dismissing the student’s case, Mr Justice Linden said: “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.”

Michaela School’s founder Katharine Birbalsingh

Katharine Birbalsingh celebrated the ruling, stating it affirmed the school’s autonomy to act in the best interests of its students.

She emphasised that parents have the freedom to choose whether to send their children to Michaela School.

The pupil, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the court the rule had “fundamentally changed” how she felt “about being a Muslim in this country”.

The school argued its prayer policy was justified after it faced death and bomb threats linked to religious observance on site.

While the court upheld the school’s prayer policy, it ruled in favour of the student regarding her temporary exclusion from the school.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan expressed support for the judgment, affirming the authority of head teachers to make decisions that they deem appropriate for their schools.