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Taking action about discrimination in education

This advice applies to England

The Equality Act 2010 says education providers like schools, colleges and universities mustn’t discriminate against their pupils and students. If you or your child has been discriminated against by a school, college or university, you may be able to take action against them under the Act.

For example, you can make a complaint or you can make a discrimination claim in court.

Read this page to find out more about what you can do if you’ve experienced discrimination in education.

Before you take action about discrimination

Before you take action about discrimination, you need to:

  • be reasonably sure that unlawful discrimination has taken place, according to the Equality Act 2010
  • check the time limits for making your claim if you want to take legal action.

Think about what you want to achieve

When deciding what action to take about discrimination, you will need to think about what you’re trying to achieve. You will also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.

You may want:

  • the discrimination to stop
  • an apology
  • the school or education provider to look again at a decision they’ve already taken
  • a change in their policy
  • staff training in discrimination issues
  • money for financial losses or compensation - for example, for stress or injury to feelings.

It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. You should, however, be aware that there are strict time limits for taking legal action against education providers - usually within 6 months of when the act of discrimination happened. It’s therefore best to act as early as possible.

Who should you take action against?

If you’ve been discriminated against by an education provider like a school, college or university you need to take action against their responsible body. The responsible body is usually the person or body responsible for the management of the education provider.

The responsible body of a school is:

  • the local authority or governing body for a school maintained by a local authority
  • the school’s proprietor for an independent school
  • the school’s managers for a non-maintained special school.

Complaining about discrimination

Schools

Most schools will have their own complaints procedure. If you want to make a complaint about discrimination, you should ask for a copy of the school’s complaints procedure.

You may be able to resolve your problem informally first - for example, by talking to the child’s teacher or head teacher. If your problem isn’t resolved, you can make a formal complaint by following the school’s complaints procedure. This generally involves complaining in writing to the head teacher and then to the governing body.

If your problem isn’t resolved by complaining to the school, there are other organisations you can complain to depending on the type of school. This includes the local authority if it’s a maintained school or the Department for Education for all state funded schools.

Colleges and universities

You should follow the college’s or university’s own complaints procedure. If your problem isn’t resolved you may be able to complain to:

  • the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education for universities and higher education institutions
  • the Education Funding Agency or the Skills Funding Agency for colleges and further education institutions.

Taking court action

If you’ve not been able to resolve your problem in other ways first, you can make a discrimination claim against the responsible body of the school, college or university. You will generally need to make your claim in the county court within 6 months from the date the discrimination happened.

Admissions

If your discrimination claim is about a decision not to admit your child to a school, you need to make your claim to an appeal panel instead of the county court.

Disability discrimination

If your claim is about disability discrimination by a school, you need to make your discrimination claim in the First-Tier Tribunal (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber) - (Special Educational Needs and Disability) or SEND instead of the county court. The claim must be made within 6 months of the discrimination happening.

If your claim is successful, the tribunal can order the school to - for example, give you an apology, change a policy or carry out staff training. But it can’t order to school to pay you compensation.

Human rights and public sector equality duty

Schools, colleges and universities have additional duties to promote equality under the Equality Act. This is called the public sector equality duty. You may be able to use the public sector equality duty to strengthen your discrimination claim.

They must also follow the Human Rights Act 1998. This means you may also be able to use human rights arguments to strengthen your discrimination claim or make a separate claim under the Human Rights Act.

Next steps

Other useful information

Guide about making a claim to the First-Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability)

You can find more information about making a disability discrimination claim in the following guide: How to claim against disability discrimination in schools – a guide for parents - (SEND4). You can find the guide on the Ministry of Justice website at

The Coram Children’s Legal Centre has useful information on how to complain to a school at

Further and higher education complaints

You can find more information on how to complain to the independent adjudicator at

You can find more information about how to complain to the Education Funding Agency at

You can find more information about how to complain in England to the Skills Funding Agency at

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