Tackling discrimination in the education sector


The Education and Training 2020 Draft Joint Report prompts us to take a look at the Equality Act 2010.
 A draft joint report by the European Commission published earlier this month focused on promoting values of equality, non-discrimination, social inclusion and cooperation at European level in the field of education and training up to 2020. Our Employment Solicitor Alex Pearce looks at certain aspects of the Equality Act 2010 with reference to education providers.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 is in place to protect against discrimination on specific grounds such as disability, pregnancy and maternity, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, race and religion or belief.An individual may make a complaint on the following forms of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic
  • Indirect discrimination: a provision, criterion or practice that applies to everyone but adversely affects people with a particular protected characteristic more than others, and is not justified.
  • Harassment: this includes sexual harassment and other unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
  • Victimisation: retaliation against someone who has complained or has supported someone else’s complaint about discrimination or harassment.
  • Disability discrimination: this includes direct and indirect discrimination, any unjustified less favourable treatment because of the effects of a disability, and failure to make reasonable adjustments to alleviate disadvantages caused by a disability.

How the Act affects the education sector

The Act prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation in schools. It does not deal with the relationship between pupils and it does not apply to the protected characteristic of age or marriage and civil partnerships.

Under the Act, those applying for admission to a school, i.e. pupils at a school are protected. The act also covers former pupils in certain circumstances.

Schools are under a duty not to discriminate in relation to admissions, exclusions, provision of education or the access to any benefit, facility or service. There are a number of exceptions from prohibition because of discrimination, including admissions to single-sex schools. For example it is permitted for a faith school to be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief concerning those that they choose to admit as pupils. Schools can also apply a permitted form of selection, such as basing admissions solely on academic aptitude, which may adversely affect a disabled pupil. 

Discrimination Claims

A claim for discrimination, harassment or victimisation is made in the County Court and must normally be brought within six months of the date of the act complained of or any other period that the County thinks “just and equitable”. An individual would normally seek from the County Court an injunction to prevent the repeating of the unlawful act in the future, a quashing order and / or damages to compensate for any loss suffered.Schools, nurseries and other education providers should seek legal advice immediately if approached concerning a discrimination claim. Often complaints can be resolved outside of court; directly or alternatively by means of conciliation.

Pinney Talfourd’s Employment Law Department encounter a number of cases each year and will be happy to advise on your options. Contact Alex on 01708 229 444 or click here to visit Alex’s contact page.

This article was written by Alex Pearce, an Associate Solicitor in our Employment Law Department at Pinney Talfourd Solicitors. This article is only intended to provide a general summary and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as at September 2015. 


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