Expert Education Law advice courtesy of the dedicated team of nationally respected specialist lawyers at HCB.
Under the Equality Act 2010, schools are not allowed to directly or indirectly discriminate against students because of their disabilities. Schools will also have to ensure pupils with disabilities have equal access to education and all the other services they offer as an institute.
What responsibilities does a school have towards a disabled child?
The Equality Act, formerly the Disability Discrimination Act, includes all the duties a school needs to impose to make sure children with disabilities can equally partake in their education – including having any obstacles that could affect their learning being removed. This could involve adjustments to accessibility, changing rules, and/or providing additional help when it is needed.
However, this responsibility to make reasonable adjustments only applies if your child has a disability that is defined by the Equality Act. This encompasses attendance, admissions, exclusions, extra assistance in learning, learning materials, activities, and their access to extra-curricular activities or school trips.
Schools cannot treat a disabled child in a less favourable manner as a direct or indirect result of that child’s disability. Should your child be at a disadvantage because of a particular rule, or because there is a lack of specific resources, the Equality Act states that reasonable adjustments must be made.
Schools will always want to avoid accusations of disability discrimination, and in order to do so they must make additional considerations as to how they can guarantee all pupils with disabilities have the same access to schooling as any other pupil. It is always the responsibility of the school to provide those adjustments; it is never a cost parents have to pay.
What can I do if my disabled child is being discriminated against in school?
When a child has suffered from disability discrimination, you can take action against the school under the Equality Act. Your first step would be to make a complaint and, if necessary, proceedings can be taken to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
If you do intend to take legal action, you will need to check the time limits for making a claim before an education solicitor can advise you. Normally, this is 6 months since the date the act of discrimination happened. It is important to follow these time limits as many claims are dismissed for being out of time. It is recommended that you take informal action first, but if you do decide to take official legal action you will still have to do so within 6 months of the discrimination occurring.
Before you can start a claim, however, you should be certain discrimination has taken place as described by the Equality Act for schools. You must be aware what constitutes unfair treatment, who has treated your child unfairly, and why that treatment could be considered unfair. You should also be clear on what your goals are. Are you simply pursuing an apology, looking to change school policies, wanting to improve staff training, or do you expect to be financially compensated?
How does the Equality Act 2010 relate to schools?
Since the Equality Act replaced the Disability Discrimination Act, there is now 1 merged piece of legislation, clearly stating all the types of discrimination that are unlawful in all independent schools, maintained schools, free schools, and academies in England and Wales.
This law covers everything from school life to the treatment of parents, guardians, and staff. The Act necessitates that everything the school does is unbiased, and that no one is put at a disadvantage because of their disability, race, or sex.
Schools are also bound by the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). The general duty of the PSED is for schools to consider how their rules and practices impact students and staff, but they also have a specific duty to publish an annual report showing how they are fulfilling the PSED, with an additional list of measurable equality goals being required every 4 years.
Disability discrimination in schools: how to make a claim
If a matter arises that violates the Equality Act, there is a procedure parents can take to challenge the school through an independent tribunal, either through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) in England, or the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales (SENTW).
In the same approach as those following a discrimination claim through court, an appeal must be made within 6 months of the offending act. Both SENDIST and SENTW are sovereign and will evaluate the submitted evidence of the case, which will lead to a formal hearing to discuss a parent’s claims of a school violating the terms of the Equality Act.
Although, SENDIST and SENTW do not have the ability to award financial compensation, they instead can offer a written apology, implement changes to school policies, or impose extra training courses for staff.
Disability discrimination schools: UK wide legal assistance
If you think your child has been the victim of discrimination because of their disability, you can seek professional advice from one of our specialist solicitors to find out if you have grounds to make a complaint. We have a reputation for excellence nationwide, and we uphold a track record of success for both parents and children who have suffered from disability discrimination acts. Call us today for tailored advice and personalised assistance.