The Michaela Community Schools Trust has successfully defended its decision to ban prayer rituals for all its pupils as lawful in the High Court. Following this high-profile judgment, the Bates Wells’ Public Law team reflect on the wider implications of the case for pupils, parents and schools.


R (TTT) v Michaela Community Schools Trust was a judicial review brought by a practising Muslim pupil regarding a school policy to ban prayer rituals and against two fixed term exclusions she received.

Michaela Community School (the “School”) is a secular state school in Wembley, widely known for its claim to be the “strictest school in Britain” and for its exceptional academic success.

In the spring of 2023, some pupils began praying during lunchtime in the playground. The number of students doing this quickly increased and there was evidence that some pupils were allegedly being pressured into praying by other pupils. Some pupils started bringing in travel prayer mats which were confiscated by teachers as they were prohibited items under the School’s rules.

The School quickly became subject to public criticism for this and an online petition was started accusing a teacher at the School of “disgusting, Islamophobic behaviour”. The situation escalated rapidly, with numerous threatening and abusive comments posted online and emailed to the School including racist and misogynistic comments about teachers and threats of violence and death. A bomb threat was also sent to the School.

Following this, the School brought in a temporary ban on all prayer rituals which was later made permanent (the “Prayer Ban”). While the ban applies to pupils of all faiths, the School accepts that it disproportionately affects Muslim pupils (who make up half of the School’s pupils).

The case and judgment

The Claimant alleged that the Prayer Ban was a breach of her right to freedom to manifest her religious beliefs which is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the “Article 9 Right”) and that, contrary to the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”), the prayer ban indirectly discriminates against Muslim pupils. The High Court held that the Prayer Ban did not interfere with the Claimant’s Article 9 Right and, in any event, any such interference would be justified. In relation to discrimination under the Act, the Court held that, while the Claimant was subject to detriment, the Prayer Ban was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The Claimant also argued that, when making the decision to impose the Prayer Ban, the School failed to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, as required under the public sector equality duty. The Court did not uphold this ground.

Lastly, the Claimant alleged that the School’s decisions to subject her to two fixed term exclusions were procedurally unfair as she was not given an opportunity to respond to what was alleged against her. The Court held that one of the suspensions was procedurally unfair but the other was not.

Lessons learned

  • High threshold for interference with a Claimant’s Article 9 Right: This is the latest in a line of judgments showing that the threshold for proving that there has been an interference with a Claimant’s Article 9 Right in a school context is very high. In this case, it was held that the pupil had not shown that she would face undue hardship or inconvenience if she moved to a different school that permitted her to pray during the school day. This was despite the fact that the prayer ban was introduced shortly before the Claimant was about to start her GCSE years. Given this restrictive approach, it is hard to see many circumstances where a pupil could show that there would be undue hardship by moving to another school.
  • What could amount to “interference” with a Claimant’s Article 9 Right in a school context? The Judge held that the Claimant had not provided any specific evidence “to show, for example that in fact there is no school within travelling distance that would permit her [to pray], or there is no such suitable school, or that it would be impossible for her to secure a place at such a school”. This suggests that evidence of this nature may help enable future claimants to argue there has been an interference with their Article 9 Right.
  • Greater success under the Act? The Court held that the Claimant had been subjected to “detriment” due to the Prayer Ban for the purposes of the Act (but went on to find that this was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim). The fact that this first hurdle was met in relation to this ground, but the interference threshold was not met on the Article 9 ground, suggests that claimants in future similar cases may have a better chance of proving discrimination under the Act rather than a breach of their Article 9 Right.
  • Importance of the facts: Lastly, while in this instance the Prayer Ban was determined to be lawful, that does not mean that similar policies would withstand legal challenge in the future. The judgment was very fact specific. In particular, the Court placed a lot of emphasis on distinctive factors about the School when concluding that the Prayer Ban was justifiable and a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim – for example, the School’s policy of “aggressively” promoting integration between different faiths and the logistical challenge of providing a space to pray in the School’s particular building. Therefore, we shouldn’t assume that a similar prayer ban in a different setting would be justified or proportionate. Given the distinctiveness of the School, it will be interesting in particular to see if and how the principles in this judgment might be applied to workplaces or in different education settings such as universities.

Overall, the judgment will have wide-ranging consequences for challenges to potentially discriminatory policies in the education system and, perhaps, elsewhere. The case has been the subject of substantial commentary, with many supporting the judgment on the basis that headteachers will be best placed to make such decisions. On the other hand, many others have raised concerns that it undermines the effectiveness of Article 9 and may force pupils and parents to weigh up the importance of attending a school that allows certain religious freedoms against other factors such as academic success.

If you or your organisation needs advice on the implications of the judgment, or think you may want to bring or defend a challenge, please contact either Natasha ([email protected]) or Matthew ([email protected]).

The material in this article is provided for guidance and general information only and is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice upon which you should rely. In particular, the information should not be used as a substitute for a full and proper consultation with a suitably qualified professional. Please do contact the Bates Wells team if you require further information.