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Taking action about discrimination in education

This advice applies to Scotland

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:

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 education authority for a public school
  • 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 Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). You can find more information on how to complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman at www.spso.org.uk.

Appealing against an admissions decision 

You have a right to request a place at a school other than your local catchment area school and education authorities have a duty to meet such requests if there is space at the requested school. However, the local authority does not have to grant your request if the school is oversubscribed. If your discrimination claim is about a decision not to admit your child to a school, you need to make your claim to the education authority's appeal committee. 

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 sheriff court within 6 months from the date the discrimination happened.

Making a disability discrimination claim at a tribunal

If your claim is about disability discrimination by a school, you need to make your discrimination claim to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal for Scotland. 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 the school to pay you compensation. 

You can find more information about making a disability discrimination claim on the disability discrimination claims page of the Additional Support Needs Tribunal for Scotland website at www.asntscotland.gov.uk

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.

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