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The Equality Act 2010 in Education

Summary

Find out everything you need to know about the The Equality Act 2010 in Education.

Disabled people are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. (You can find the Equality Act definition of disability here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/6).

In terms of education, this means that it is illegal for schools (and colleges/universities) to discriminate against children because they are autistic.  This includes the following areas:

  • education 
  • admissions
  • access to the curriculum
  • school trips
  • sports
  • school meals 
  • after school clubs held on school premises

Under the Equality Act 2010, schools have two key duties with regard to disabled pupils:

  1. they must not treat disabled pupils less favourably for a reason related to their disability, and
  1. they must take all reasonable steps (or make all reasonable adjustments) to ensure that disabled pupils are not put at a substantial disadvantage (which means anything more than a minor disadvantage)

Different types of discrimination under The Equality Act 2010

Direct discrimination is when a school or college treats your child less favourably because they are autistic.  For example, if a school says an autistic child cannot go on a school trip because they don’t think that the child will get as much out of it as their peers because they are autistic.

If another pupil is treated less favourably because they are friends with an autistic pupil, or if a parent is treated less favourably because their child is autistic, then that is direct discrimination by association.  

Indirect discrimination is when a school rule, which applies to everyone, inadvertently results in your child being disadvantaged because they are autistic.  For example, if a school has a rule that all children receive detention if they do not hand in their homework on time, and it is applied to everyone without reasonable adjustments.  An autistic child then gets a detention for not handing in homework because she takes longer to process what the teacher is saying and was not given enough time to write down the task, and hence was not able to complete it.

Discrimination arising from disability is when a pupil is treated unfavourably because of something arising as a consequence of their disability.  For example, an autistic child is told they cannot sit in their usual seat in the classroom because the new teacher does not know it is a reasonable adjustment for them.  As a result, the child becomes very distressed and shouts at the teacher and is given a detention.  Their behaviour was connected to being autistic, and reasonable adjustments were ignored and therefore the detention might be considered discrimination arising from disability.

Victimisation is when someone is treated less favourably because they made a complaint about discrimination, either faced by themselves or someone else.  Many parents (and children) are worried about negative repercussions for the child if they make a complaint about school or a teacher, and do not realise this would be illegal victimisation.  Similarly, if a friend of an autistic pupil sees them being discriminated against by a teacher and speaks out, and then gets into trouble – that would also be victimisation. 

Harassment is when an autistic pupil is bullied, mocked or belittled.  They experience an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments is when adjustments are not made to make an environment or activity more accessible to an autistic child.  For example, if there is a strict school rule about uniform, and they do not make reasonable adjustments for an autistic child who cannot wear the uniform due to sensory differences.

Making sure that reasonable adjustments are in place can help prevent indirect discrimination and discrimination arising from a disability.  It is an anticipatory duty, so schools should be looking to put these adjustments in place in preparation for making something accessible.

What might reasonable adjustments look like?

If your child is struggling in school, one of the first things to do is see whether the school can make reasonable adjustments to what they are doing/what is being asked of the child.  There are various ways in which a school might make reasonable adjustments for an autistic child, depending on what the child’s needs are.  Some examples might include, amongst other things:

  • Having a quiet space
  • Providing access to support 1-1 / TA
  • Entering school early / late in order to miss the crowds 
  • Uniform adjustments to take into account a child’s sensory differences
  • Sensory supports/fiddle toys
  • Movement breaks/being able to leave the classroom
  • Reading / writing aids (eg using a laptop instead of handwriting)

What to do if you think there has been discrimination in education

  • If you think there has been or is a risk of discrimination, talk to the school or college (teacher, lecturer, learning support section, disability officer, SENCO, head, governor responsible for SEN)
  • Contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) for advice about Equality Act issues: 

www.equalityadvisoryservice.com, Helpline: 0808 800 0082