The SENDiT Blog

How Does the Equality Act 2010 Affect SEN Practice in Schools?

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The Equality Act 2010 protects every individual in Britain. 

Under the Equality Act there are nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate, harass or victimise somebody because they have one of these characteristics.

How Is Disability Defined Under the Equality Act 2010?

Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term (a year or more) adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. 

A physical or mental impairment includes:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Mental health conditions
  • Medical conditions
  • Hidden impairments such as autism or speech and language difficulties.

What Is a School’s Duty?

Schools are covered under Part 6 of the Equality Act 2010. 

Schools must not discriminate against a child by not offering a place or by only offering a place under specific terms and conditions. They must ensure that the child has full access to education, facilities and services. They must not subject ‘the pupil to any (other) detriment’ which means they must not subject the child to any form of disadvantage.  

Equality covers all aspects of school life enjoyed by children  – teaching and learning, school trips, activities, clubs, etc.

What Is Disability Discrimination?

The Equality Act 2010 defines disability discrimination as:

  • Penalising a child by failing to accommodate their needs.  For example, by penalising a child for having time off for medical appointments.
  • Direct discrimination. When a child receives less favourable treatment than other children because of their disability.
  • Indirect discrimination. This is ‘…applying a provision, criterion or practice that puts, or would put, a disabled child at a disadvantage compared with another child who is not disabled. A blanket policy is a policy that is applied in the same way to all children. A blanket policy may put a disabled children at a particular disadvantage.’ When a school has a policy or particular method of working that has a negative impact on a disabled child then a water-tight justification must be provided. 
  • Failure to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate them.  We will talk about reasonable adjustments in our next legal blog post.
  • Harassment. This is prohibited under the Equality Act 2010. ‘Harassment is behaviour which violates the dignity of a disabled child, or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them. Harassment would include bullying, mocking or belittling a disabled child’.
  • Victimisation. For example, when a child is poorly treated because their parents have made a complaint against the setting.  

Who Is Responsible for Complying With the Act?

In a maintained school the governing body is responsible for compliance. In an academy it is the Academy Trust, and in an independent school it is the proprietor.

However, teachers also have legal, professional responsibilities under the Department for Education’s Teachers’ Standards. More details can be found in the link below:

Next Time…

We will talk about ‘reasonable adjustments’ and schools’ wider responsibilities under the Equalities Act 2010 in our next legal blog.