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Discrimination in education - can you make a claim?

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In the UK, pupils and students are protected from being discriminated against by their schools, colleges and universities under the Equality Act 2010, but this doesn’t mean education is free from discrimination. It is important to be able to identify when discrimination is happening and know what to do to stop it. If not, it can have long-term effects on the impacted individual.

What is discrimination in education?

Discrimination in education can happen at various points in an individual's life; it is when a person is treated unfairly because of who they are. In education, this can be detrimental to an individual, often a child, and can lead to their education being impacted long term, as well as their mental health.

In the UK, discrimination is unfair treatment against someone because of what the Equality Act 2010 outlines as ‘protected characteristics’. This unfair treatment cannot discriminate against someone at any point in their education, including admission, access to education and extra-curricular activities or even exclusions.

Protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 outlines nine protected characteristics that cannot be discriminated against, and in education, there is a duty placed on schools, higher and further education institutions not to discriminate based on these set characteristics. The nine protected characteristics outlined in the act are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion or belief
  • Gender reassignment
  • Pregnancy and maternity 
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership

How can you take action against discrimination?

If you decide to take action against discrimination, it is important to know who to take this action against and how to do it. The body that provides you or your child's education is to who the complaint should be directed to. Depending on the type of school attended, this will be the local authority or the school’s board. Similarly, colleges and universities will likely be run by private bodies rather than the local authority, and it is to that body to which you should complain. 

Complaints procedures

Schools, universities and colleges will all have their own complaints procedure that should be accessible to you. Following this procedure should be your first formal step in tackling the discrimination, and if this fails to resolve the issue, you should look to the body in charge of providing the education, such as the local authority. In regard to universities, the the complaint can then be escalated to the OIA (Office for Independent Adjudication), It is recommended to follow this course for complaints against higher education before taking legal action.

Court action 

Going to court should always be a last resort, but sometimes it is inevitable. If you have tried to resolve the issue through all other open routes and they have failed to stop the discrimination, then you can claim the responsible body.

It is important to note that this claim must be brought within six months of the discrimination taking place.

Why work with our equality and discrimination solicitors?

Our dispute resolution solicitors have a wealth of combined experience and expertise in handling a wide range of disputes, including circumstances in relation to equality and discrimination. Our team are skilled in securing early resolutions to various matters, securing favourable settlements before court hearings are scheduled.

The team is led by our equality and discrimination expert, Carrie Clewes. Carrie has extensive experience and knowledge in acting on a wide range of litigation matters under the Equality Act, providing a comprehensive service that combines empathy and efficiency.


If you need any legal advice either now or at some point in the future, please do get in touch. Call one of our local Chattertons offices or fill in our online enquiry form for a quick response.