The Equality Act 2010 says education providers such as schools, colleges and universities mustn’t discriminate against their pupils and students. If you or your child has been discriminated against by a school, college or university, you may be able to take action against them under the Act.
For example, you can make a complaint or you can make a discrimination claim in court.
Before you take action about discrimination, you need to:
When deciding what action to take about discrimination, you will need to think about what you’re trying to achieve. You will also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.
You may want:
It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action.
You should, however, be aware that there are strict time limits for taking legal action against education providers - usually within 6 months of when the act of discrimination happened. It’s therefore best to act as early as possible.
If you’ve been discriminated against by an education provider like a school, college or university you need to take action against their responsible body. The responsible body is usually the person or body responsible for the management of the education provider.
The responsible body of a school is:
Most schools will have their own complaints procedure. If you want to make a complaint about discrimination, you should ask for a copy of the school’s complaints procedure.
You may be able to resolve your problem informally first - for example, by talking to the child’s teacher or head teacher. If your problem isn’t resolved, you can make a formal complaint by following the school’s complaints procedure. This generally involves complaining in writing to the head teacher and then to the governing body.
If your problem isn’t resolved by complaining to the school, there are other organisations you can complain to depending on the type of school. This includes the local authority if it’s a maintained school or the Department for Education for all state funded schools.
You should follow the college’s or university’s own complaints procedure. If your problem isn’t resolved you may be able to complain to:
If you’ve not been able to resolve your problem in other ways first, you can make a discrimination claim against the responsible body of the school, college or university. You will generally need to make your claim in the county court within 6 months from the date the discrimination happened.
If your discrimination claim is about a decision not to admit your child to a school, you need to make your claim to an appeal panel instead of the county court.
If your claim is about disability discrimination by a school, you need to make your discrimination claim in the First-Tier Tribunal (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber) - (Special Educational Needs and Disability) or SEND instead of the county court. The claim must be made within 6 months of the discrimination happening.
If your claim is successful, the tribunal can order the school to, for example, give you an apology, change a policy or carry out staff training. But it can’t order to school to pay you compensation.
Schools, colleges and universities have additional duties to promote equality under the Equality Act. This is called the public sector equality duty. You may be able to use the public sector equality duty to strengthen your discrimination claim.
They must also follow the Human Rights Act 1998. This means you may also be able to use human rights arguments to strengthen your discrimination claim or make a separate claim under the Human Rights Act.
You can find more information about making a disability discrimination claim in the following guide: How to claim against disability discrimination in schools – a guide for parents - (SEND4). You can find the guide on the Ministry of Justice website at
You can find information about how to complain to a school on the Coram Children's Legal Centre website.
You can find more information on how to complain to the independent adjudicator at
Find out how to complain to the Education and Skills Funding Agency.
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