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Disability discrimination in schools

This advice applies to Scotland

It's illegal for schools to discriminate against a pupil because of their disability.

In some situations, schools must also take positive steps so that disabled pupils can access and participate in the education and other activities they provide.

Read this page to find out more about disability discrimination in schools.

Removing barriers for disabled pupils

If you have a disabled child, schools must remove the barriers they face because of their disability so they can access and participate in education in the same way as someone who's not disabled, as far as this is possible. This responsibility applies to practices or rules the school has and to the need to provide an aid to a pupil who reasonably needs it. This is called the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Is your child disabled

Schools only have a duty to make reasonable adjustments if your child has a disability which meets the definition in the Equality Act 2010.

When must schools make reasonable adjustments

The duty to make adjustments applies to all of the school’s activities and the decisions made by teachers and staff, including:

  • admissions
  • exclusions
  • access to school trips
  • attendance at school
  • help and support in school
  • learning activities and materials

Schools must make adjustments if:

  • your child is disadvantaged by a practice or rule because of their disability or the failure to provide an aid, and
  • it’s reasonable to make the changes or provide the aid to remove the disadvantage

When is something a reasonable adjustment

Whether something is reasonable depends on things like:

  • your child’s disability and what support, if any, they receive as a result of their additional support for learning needs, as set out in their Individual Education Programme (IEP) 
  • how practicable the changes are
  • the school's resources
  • the cost of making the change or providing the aid
  • if the change you ask for would overcome the disadvantage your child experiences
  • if there are other ways of overcoming the disadvantage
  • health and safety considerations and the interests of other pupils

The duty to make reasonable adjustments in education is anticipatory. This means schools must consider in advance what they need to do to make sure all disabled pupils can access and participate in the education and other benefits, facilities and services they provide for their pupils.

It’s the school who must pay if they make reasonable adjustments and they are never allowed to charge you for them.

What must schools do

If your child is disadvantaged by something at school because of their disability there are two things you can ask them to do:

  • change the way things are done in the school, like a policy, rule or practice - this is a provision, criterion or practice. For example, you could ask a school to change their uniform policy, their rules about lateness in class or their timetables
  • provide extra aids or services - for example, extra staff assistance, a BSL interpreter, specialist equipment like an induction loop or an adapted keyboard.

What about changes to school buildings

Schools don't have to make changes to the physical features of its site or buildings. Instead the local authority and the school must publish and implement plans to improve the accessibility of schools. These plans must also set out how access to lessons, school activities and information will be improved for disabled pupils. You could ask to see the plan for your child’s school and what steps have been taken to implement it.

Children who have additional support for learning needs

It’s not necessary for your child to have been assessed as having additional support needs to ask the school for reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act. And if your child has been assessed as having additional support needs, you may still need the school to make reasonable adjustments in addition to the additional support they get. Find out more about rights to additional support for learning in the Parents' Guide to Additional Support for Learning on the Enquire website.

Other forms of disability discrimination

There are other types of unlawful disability discrimination:

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • discrimination because of something connected to your disability - this is called discrimination arising from disability
  • harassment
  • victimisation

Example

A private school has turned down your son’s application for a place because he’s disabled. This is direct disability discrimination and you can take action under the Equality Act.

Example

Your daughter is disabled and has been told she can’t participate in the school Christmas play. This is because of her disruptive behaviour. Her behaviour is something which is connected to her disability. This is therefore likely to be discrimination arising from disability.

The school should also consider what reasonable adjustments it can make to allow your daughter to participate in the play.

More information

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you've experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website.

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