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Disabled Children's Rights
Under the Equality Act 2010, schools are not permitted to discriminate directly or indirectly against pupils because of their disability. In some circumstances schools also need to take steps to ensure disabled pupils have equal access to education and access to all other services offered.
What responsibilities does a school have towards a disabled child?
The Equality Act has replaced the Disability Discrimination Act, which includes duties imposed on schools and provides that any barriers faced due to disability must be removed so that disabled children are able to participate in education in the same way as someone who is not disabled. This could mean changing rules or practices, making adjustments in regard to accessibility, or providing additional learning aids.
This ‘duty to make reasonable adjustments’ as it is known only applies if your child has a disability as defined by the Equality Act. For schools this duty extends to admissions and exclusions; school attendance; learning materials and activities; support and assistance in learning and access to school trips and extra-curricular activities.
If your child is disadvantaged by a certain rule or practice due to their disability or because there are not certain materials or resources to aid their learning, then the Equality Act dictates that adjustments must be made if it is reasonable to do so.
To avoid claims of disability discrimination, schools must make advanced considerations as to what steps they should take to ensure all disabled pupils have equal access to education together with any other activities, facilities and services that are open to other pupils. Any adjustments that are required must never be charged to parents: it is the school that is responsible for covering these costs.
What can I do if my disabled child is being discriminated against in school?
When a child is alleged to have suffered disability discrimination, schools can have action taken against them under the Equality Act. You can start by making a complaint and if it becomes necessary, the matter can proceed by way of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (England) or Special Educational Needs Tribunal For Wales (shown below).
If your child has been discriminated against on the basis of his/her disability at school, the first step to take is to check the time limits for making a claim if you intend to take legal action. An education law solicitor will advise you that this is 6 months from the date that the act of discrimination occurred. It is very important to adhere to the time limits, as claims can be struck out for being ‘out of time’.
Secondly, before making a complaint or starting a claim, you should be reasonably satisfied that discrimination has taken place under the Equality Act for schools. You will need to be aware of what constitutes the unfair treatment; who has been treating your child unfairly and how the treatment is unfair.
Thirdly, be clear on your goals. For example, are you seeking an apology and acknowledgement for the upset caused? Do you want to see an end to the discrimination? Are you looking to see changes in policy or improved staff training? Or are you expecting to be compensated financially?
The informal route should be the first you take, although bear in mind that if you do want to take formal legal action via the Court, you will need to do so within 6 months of when the disability discrimination act in a school occurred.
How does the Equality Act 2010 relate to schools?
The Disability Discrimination Act in schools was replaced by the Equality Act 2010 which in total replaced nine major Acts of Parliament and numerous sets of regulations.
There is now one single consolidated piece of legislation that clearly states all the types of discrimination that are not lawful. In England and Wales, the Equality Act for schools applies to all independent and maintained schools, free schools and academies. It covers the various aspects of school life and as well as relating to how pupils and prospective pupils are treated. It also applies to the treatment of parents, guardians, staff and community members. The Act requires everything that is done by a school to be fair so that no one is put at a disadvantage on the basis of their ‘protected characteristics’ (i.e. race, disability, sex etc).
As of 2011, schools also became bound by the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) which is part of the Equality Act 2010. The PSED has a general duty plus specific duties. The general duty requires schools to consider how their day to day activities, policies and practices impact on pupils and staff. The specific duties are to publish information annually on how they are complying with the PSED and to publish one or more measureable equality goals every four years.
Disability discrimination in schools: how to make a claim
Under the Equality Act for primary schools and secondary schools, if an issue arises that contravenes the legislation, there is a process in both England and Wales that parents can follow, allowing them to challenge the actions of a school through an independent Tribunal.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SENDIST) governs such claims in England, whereas the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales (SENTW) has the same jurisdiction in Wales.
An appeal must be brought within 6 months from the date of the discriminatory act complained of, much like the requirement imposed upon those pursuing a discrimination claim through the Courts.
Both SENTW and SENDIST are independent and will review the evidence submitted. The next step is to hold a formal hearing to discuss the claims brought by the parent as to the alleged infringement of the Equality Act 2010 on the part of the school.
Neither SENTW nor SENDIST has the ability to award compensation, however. The remedies available instead could include a formal written apology, a change of school policy which may have been contravening the Act or the requirement for staff to attend further training courses, for example.
Disability discrimination schools: UK wide legal assistance
If you believe your child has suffered a disability discrimination act in a school and you would like some professional advice from a specialist in this field to find out whether you have grounds for a complaint, to request changes in school or Local Authority policy or to claim compensation, talk to the experts at HCB Solicitors. We have a nationwide reputation for excellence in this area of education law and a proven track record of success in achieving justice for children and their families who have suffered due to breaches of the Equality Act for schools. Call us today for the personalised advice you need.