It is unlawful for schools to discriminate on one of the protected grounds:
- In admission to the school, for example, the policies and procedures associated with the assessment of a disabled child to attend your mainstream school. Or offering a pupil who is gay a place at your independent school on the condition that they hide their sexual orientation and pretend that they are straight (heterosexual).
- In applications, for example, by refusing to accept a pupil for whom English is a second language.
- In access to any benefits, facilities or services, including education or associated services, add link for example, by refusing to allow a disabled pupil with behavioural difficulties to attend an after schools club. Or by allowing a boy band to use the music room during lunch breaks to practice but refusing a girl band access to the same facility
- By excluding a pupil for example, excluding a boy from school for fighting but not excluding a girl for the same offence; or
- By treating a pupil unfavourably in any other way
- There is also a general duty on bodies responsible for schools in the public sector to ensure that facilities are provided without sex, sexual orientation, or race discrimination.
No. There are different types of discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.
The main forms are:
- disability-related discrimination
- failure to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments
You are liable for the actions of your employees that are carried out in the course of their employment whether the act was done with or without your knowledge or approval. This is often referred to as “vicarious liability”. Thus you would be liable for harassment and bullying or other discriminatory acts by teaching staff, school care takers, kitchen assistants etc.
There are some exceptions (where it is lawful to discriminate) to the general principle of discrimination.
It is lawful to:
- have admissions to single-sex schools and single sex boarding accommodation in co-educational schools
- have single-sex teaching groups in co-educational schools, provided the provision to boys and girls is equal
- confine participation in certain sporting events to competitors of one sex
- confine male pupils in a female single sex school (or vice versa) to a particular course of study, but only where the admission of the pupils of the opposite sex was exceptional, or where their numbers are comparatively small and they were admitted in order to study that particular subject only
- treat a pupil or prospective pupil who is disabled less favourably in certain circumstances where this can be justified. For example, under SENDO, where a grant-aided school applies the normal admission criteria drawn up under Article 16 (1) of the Education (NI) Order 1997 or Article 32 (1) of the Education (NI) Order 1998
It should be noted however that exceptions should always be relied upon with caution.
Yes, complaints about discrimination in schools are brought to Education and Library Boards, Tribunals and County Courts according to the issue being raised:
Sex, sexual orientation and race
Complaints relating to discrimination on grounds of sex, sexual orientation and race in respect of schools must be made to the County Court within 6 months of the date the discrimination took place.
Disability claims of unlawful discrimination in relation to education in schools must be made by the parent of a disabled child within six months of the act complained of. The claim is made to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) for Northern Ireland.
Disability discrimination in relation to expulsions from grant-aided schools
Complaints about disability-related discrimination in relation to expulsions from grant-aided schools are made to the Education and Library Board Expulsion of Pupils Appeal Tribunal within ten days from the date of the principal’s letter to the parents notifying them of their child’s expulsion.
You are allowed to have a different uniform policy for boys than girls, however an appearance code is a “living instrument” and there must be a mechanism in place to facilitate and allow change over time.
- Your uniform policy states that boys are not allowed to have hair touching blazer collars. Girls are not prohibited in the same way although they have to wear long hair tied back and are forbidden from extreme styles and colours.
This is likely to be lawful under the Sex Discrimination Order.
Further information see the court ruling on hair styles: “An application for judicial review by Robert McMillen,  NIQB 21”
You are permitted to have rules about standards of dress of your pupils. However what is an acceptable form of dress in school depends on what is currently considered to be a “conventional form of dress”.
Smart trousers are now a widely accepted alternative to skirts for women at work, and trousers have practical advantages for school life. Because it is quite normal for girls to wear trousers, there is a strong argument that it is unlawful sex discrimination to deny a girl the opportunity to wear smart trousers as an alternative to skirts as part of a uniform code.
School uniforms can also be problematic for people who hold certain religious beliefs or who are from a particular racial group.
- A rule that girls must wear knee length skirts could exclude some Muslims, who are required by their religion to cover their legs. For more information on this see the example about head coverings in the indirect discrimination section.