Discrimination in Schools

Disability, gender & racial discrimination laws

There is a large body of anti–discrimination law relating to education in the UK.  Educational discrimination is illegal in the UK under a number of different Acts that put the emphasis on schools as well as other governing bodies and authorities.

Disability discrimination in education

The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995, which was amended by the Educational Needs and Disability Act in 2001 states that an educational establishment is being discriminatory if it treats a child less favourably because of their disability and cannot show that this treatment was ever justified.  Under the Act Schools must make plans to show how they will extend accessibility to education for disabled students and that they must change their facilities to guarantee these students are not put at a disadvantage.  In 2006, as a direct result of the 2005 Disability Discrimination Act, the Disability Equality Duty emerged. This duty places the responsibility of publication of Disability Equality Schemes on Public Authorities. Schools must now show they understand the importance of promoting equality of opportunity, encouraging positive attitudes towards disability, encouraging disabled people to participate and to ensure that the right steps are taken to meet the pupil’s needs.

Gender discrimination in education  

Educational discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal with regards to section twenty two of the Sexual Discrimination Act which was amended in 2005. This Act means it is now unlawful if schools discriminate, refuse an application, deny access to services and facilities or unfairly exclude a pupil on the basis of their gender. There is an exception to this made in section twenty six with regards to single sex educational establishments, which are allowed to discriminate with regards to their admissions policies. The Equality Act of 2006 introduced the Gender Equality Duty, which came into effect in 2007, and this places a legal duty on public authorities such as schools and higher education establishments to help get rid of any unlawful gender discrimination. As part of this, these public bodies must create and enact a Gender Equality Scheme to accomplish this legal duty. These schemes must also be open to assessment and monitoring, as well as annual progress reports.

Racial discrimination in education 

Section seventeen of the Race relations Act makes it unlawful for an educational institution to discriminate against any pupil on the basis of their race. The Act identifies that discrimination in the areas of the application process, provision of facilities and services and exclusion are generally considered unlawful. However it is not unlawful to provide members of certain racial groups with facilities and services that meet the special needs of that group. The act was amended in 2001 to give public authorities a statutory duty to develop racial equality by encouraging equality of opportunity and good relations between races as well as discouraging any unlawful discrimination on the grounds of race.  This duty ensures that both schools and higher education institutions must monitor and assess the effect of their policies on staff, parents and pupils and relations between various racial groups. Schools are only required to take reasonable steps to publish annual reports while higher education establishments must provide a written statement of their equality policies. Educational institutions also have a statutory duty to record any incident of racism that takes place in their establishments, in writing. They must then report this incident to their Local Authority or, if it is serious enough, to the police.

If a parent thinks that their child has been discriminated against on the basis of their race, gender or disabilities they must lodge a claim with either the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) First Tier tribunal or the County Court. Claims to the County Court could end with damages while a claim to SEND will result in actions such as apologies, recognition of discrimination and further training to combat future discrimination.

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