Timeline of events in how school prayer rituals ban led to High Court challenge

A Muslim student at a London school has lost a High Court challenge against its ban on prayer rituals.

The student, who cannot be named, took legal action against Michaela Community School in Brent, believing the policy was discriminatory.

But how did events unfold?

– Autumn term 2022 and start of term 2023

Pupils began talking about the possibility of praying at the school, the student said.

Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh
Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh was targeted with death threats, abuse and allegations of Islamophobia (PA)

– March 17 2023

One of the teachers saw a Year 9 pupil praying in the yard during the lunch break, using their blazer as a prayer mat.

Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh was informed but she did not intervene because this was within the school rules at the time.

– March 22 2023

Around 20 Year 9 children prayed in the yard using prayer mats.

Ms Birbalsingh said there was a “high degree of concern and unease” among teachers and pupils as prayer rituals had not been conducted at the school before.

A large number of Year 9 girls had co-ordinated with each other to bring in prayer mats without permission, despite this being against the rules.

– March 23 2023

A senior teacher told children to put the prayer mats away as they were against school policy, but two students answered back to her.

Royal Courts of Justice in London
The case was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London (Nick Ansell/PA)

– March 24 2023

There were around 30 pupils praying in the yard, including from years 7 and 11.

On the same day, an online petition started, accusing the senior teacher of “disgusting, Islamophobic behaviour” the previous day, and was signed by at least 4,000 people.

Ms Birbalsingh and the teacher were targeted with death threats, abuse and allegations of Islamophobia.

– March 25 and 26 2023

An email was sent to the school saying several bombs had been planted in the building.

Ms Birbalsingh spoke with the school’s senior leadership team, and they agreed to ban prayer rituals.

– March 27 2023

Police searched the school for explosives, nothing was found.

The ban on prayer rituals was enforced by teachers and two security guards were hired amid threats.

– May 23 2023

The school’s governing body voted to introduce the ritual prayer policy.

– January 16 2024

The student brought a High Court challenge against the school, alleging that the policy was discriminatory and had “fundamentally changed” how she felt “about being a Muslim in this country”.

– April 16 2024

Mr Justice Linden dismissed the pupil’s arguments, saying there was “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.”