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Disability discrimination is when a disabled pupil is treated
worse than a non-disabled child or where a school has not done
things differently for a disabled pupil where necessary.
This page will explain your child's rights not to be
discriminated against at school and what you can do if you feel
this has happened. There are similar rights for young people in
The law around
Which schools and providers does the Equality Act apply to?
of school life are covered?
Who is disabled?
What must schools do?
examples of discrimination
Taking matters further
The law covering discrimination is the Equality Act 2010. This
is a consolidation of previous legislation, including the
Disability Discrimination Act. As well as disability, the Equality
Act also covers discrimination relating to other 'protected
characteristics', such as race and sex.
The Equality Act applies to England, Wales and Scotland, with a
few differences in each nation, mainly in how you can challenge
discrimination. The Equality Act does not apply to Northern
Ireland, which has separate legislation. For more information about
rights in Northern Ireland, see the website of the
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
The Equality Act applies to:
The act covers:
The definition of disability under the Equality Act is quite
wide and is not dependent on a particular diagnosis.
A person is disabled if they have:
A 'physical or mental impairment' can include sensory
impairments, medical conditions, learning disabilities, mental
health conditions, autism, speech and language impairments, and
more. There is no requirement for a formal diagnosis, though this
is likely to help as evidence of an impairment
'Long-term' means a year or more, and 'substantial' means more
than minor or trivial. Normal day-to-day activities can be physical
or tasks such as processing instructions.
government guidance on what counts as a disability under the
Schools have a number of duties under the Equality Act. Some of
these apply to individual disabled pupils and some are general
Duties to individual pupils
There is more information below about this under types and
examples of discrimination
Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED):
The PSED applies to all state funded schools, including
Academies. This is a duty to eliminate discrimination, advance
equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people
who share a protected characteristic, such as disability, and those
who don't. Schools must have regard to PSED in everything they do,
so disability issues should not be treated in a separate silo.
Accessibility plan (England and Wales only):
All schools, including independent schools, must publish an
accessibility plan that sets out how they will improve access for
disabled pupils in the following areas:
Local authorities in England and Wales have a similar duty to
publish an accessibility strategy. This sets out how they plan to
improve access in maintained schools in the area. In England, the
accessibility strategy may be available on the local authority's
'local offer' site.
Schools should be looking ahead at how they can do things
differently for disabled pupils if necessary. They don't have to
wait until a disabled pupil joins the school.
Below we look at some types of discrimination, with brief
examples. We go onto explain what you can do if you think your
child is being discriminated against.
It is always unlawful to treat a pupil less favourably simply
because the pupil is disabled.
Below are some examples of direct discrimination:
There are no circumstances in which direct discrimination is
This relates to a 'provision, criterion or practice' which:
A provision, criterion or practice might be a written school
policy or just the way things are generally done within the school.
The most common instance of indirect discrimination is where
schools have 'blanket policies' that apply to all pupils without
The school should look at allowing an exception to the policy in
these particular cases.
Discrimination arising from disability
This is less favourable treatment:
Some examples of likely discrimination arising from
The school must know of the disability beforehand for it to be
discrimination. And the school's actions may be justified if they
are a proportionate means - for example excluding a pupil with
autism who has trashed a classroom - to achieve a legitimate aim -
in this case, providing a safe and orderly learning
However, the school's actions are unlikely to be justified if
the school has not looked at reasonable adjustments as a first
Failure to make reasonable adjustments
The reasonable adjustments duty is the duty to take 'such steps
as are reasonable to avoid disadvantage' for disabled pupils. It
Failure to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled child
would count as discrimination under the Equality Act
In essence this means that schools do not have to treat disabled
children exactly the same as all other children. A school must look
at doing things differently if a disabled child is at a significant
disadvantage. Reasonable adjustments need not be complicated or
expensive. Some examples of reasonable adjustments might be:
What is reasonable is not defined in law. When looking at making
a reasonable adjustment, a school can take into account:
A large secondary school will be expected to do more than a
small village primary. A school cannot charge parents for making
Here's a more detailed example:
The reasonable adjustment duty is anticipatory. This means that
schools should look ahead to what disabled pupils may need in the
If you feel your child has been discriminated against, it is
always best to try to sort things out informally with the school
Make an appointment to talk to your child's class teacher, head
of year or the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO).
Explain carefully how your child's disability affects them in
school and how they are being disadvantaged. It may be helpful to
make practical suggestions as to how the school can put things
right, for example:
If this doesn't resolve the situation you can look at a formal
approach. This might be:
A complaint to school
You should be able to find the school's complaints procedure on
the school website. It may have several stages. Commonly these are
informal resolution, written complaint to the headteacher, written
complaint to the governors. At the final stage you may be able to
put your case in person to a panel of governors.
Making a legal claim
If the discrimination is serious or repeated you may want to
consider making a legal claim.
In England, the
First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability)
handles cases involving schools, both state-funded and independent.
The tribunal does not, however, hear claims relating to admissions
to state-funded schools as these are dealt with through the local
The tribunal cannot award monetary compensation, but it can
order things like an apology, staff training, extra tuition or
activities, a change to the school's policies, and reinstatement
for permanently excluded pupils.
The County Court handles cases involving further education (FE)
institutions and service providers, for example early years
settings. The County Court can award compensation.
The situation in the other UK nations differs slightly and is
explained in the table below, along with a summary of how England
cases are dealt with:
The time limit for making a discrimination claim is six months
from the alleged discriminatory act or from the last in a series of
Advisory and Support Service (EASS) may be able to help you
decide on the best course of action in your case. EASS covers
England, Wales and Scotland.
Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance: