Lawyers for a school led by Britain’s “strictest headmistress” have argued reversing a “prayer ban” would expose it to “an unacceptable risk of threats”.

Michaela Community School is facing a legal challenge at the High Court from a Muslim student who claims the policy is discriminatory.

The Times reported yesterday (January 18) that the unnamed student secured legal aid for the judicial review, estimated to cost between £100,000 and £150,000.

The school’s lawyers claimed that action to stop prayers was taken after concerns about about a “culture shift” towards “segregation between religious groups and intimidation within the group of Muslim pupils”.

They said that if the ban was reversed, it would create “unacceptable” risks for pupils and staff, citing previous claimed threats of violence, abuse and “false” allegations of Islamophobia.

Jason Coppel KC, representing the Michaela School Community Trust – the school's governing body – on Wednesday (January 17), claimed that during March 2023, “Muslim children were observed to be applying peer pressure to other Muslim children to act in certain ways”.

This included - he said - a number of children being told that they were ‘bad Muslims’ for not praying, prompting them to start praying.

In a statement posted to X, headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, defended the school’s policy, claiming it “restored calm and order to the school”.

She said: “[…] The governing body had to take the decision to stop prayer rituals when some pupils started them, against a backdrop of events including violence, intimidation and appalling racial harassment of our teachers”.

But in her legal action against the school, the student claims the decision “banning prayer rituals” breaches her right to freedom of religion.

She added that the ban is “like somebody saying they don’t feel like I properly belong here” and that it had “fundamentally changed” how she feels “about being a Muslim in this country”.

Her lawyer – Sarah Hannett KC – told the court that the policy had the “practical effect of only preventing Muslims from praying because their prayer by nature has a ritualised nature rather than being internal”.

Miriam Benitez, representing Brent Council, said in written arguments that it “continues to remain neutral” over the legal dispute and attended the hearing as an “interested observer”.

The hearing before Mr Justice Linden ended on Wednesday, with the judge saying he would deliver his ruling “as quickly as possible” at a later date.

Reporting by PA.