Discrimination in schools

There are four main types of discrimination that are important in schools; direct discrimination and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Direct discrimination in schools is when a child is treated less favourably on the grounds of gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, religious belief or age. For example, assuming a child may not be able to reach a certain level of work because they are disabled. In these cases the act itself is unlawful, not whether or not someone meant it.

Indirect discrimination is when policies or practices affect a certain group of children more than others for no good reason. The groups protected by the legislation include groups defined by their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief, or age. When it is related to disability, reasonable adjustments should be made so that indirect discrimination does not take place.

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Harassment can occur when a school engages in unwanted conduct related to a disability which has the purpose or effect of violating a pupil's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the pupil. The pupil concerned may not have a disability but might be associated with someone who has, or is wrongly perceived as having a disability.


Victimisation occurs when a school does something which is disadvantageous to a pupil because either the pupil or the pupil's parent or sibling takes, or is thought to be about to take, action under disability discrimination law. This extends to pupils who are associated with, or perceived to have, a disability.

What to do if you spot discrimination

Claims can only be brought to action within 6 months of the last act of discrimination so if you feel that your child is being discriminated against, you must act straight away. The tribunal has power to allow a late claim, but it will only do so if this is considered justified.

Any claims that you make will be dealt with according to the situation. For example, most cases will result in remedies that will aid the situation or prevent the situation arising again: retraining of the teacher(s) involved, apologies and recognition that the child has been discriminated against. If a child has been permanently excluded from the school, an order can be sent to reinstate them. Damages will not be awarded in these cases.

How to make a discrimination claim

To make a claim, you must start by filling your complaint. This will include:

  • Child details
  • Information about your claim
  • The child’s disabilities and how it may affect their day to day lives
  • Contact details
  • Special requirements
  • What corrective action you want
  • Signatures
  • Information on where you should hand in your claim

Once this is handed in, schools should be careful to make sure they aim to achieve the corrective action and refusals to do so must be heavily justified. Complain about a school

For all other discrimination claims, such as race or sex, claims can be brought to the County Court and if a case is successful, damages could be awarded.

If you feel a member of your family has suffered discrimination in school and you want to discuss the options that are available to you call us on 0175 321 5096 or send us an email by using our online contact form.

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