Discrimination in School Admissions

Author:
Serena Fassò
Public Law Solicitor
Date:
06/03/2019

The school admissions system is designed to make sure that all children can exercise their right to education. Every child should have the same opportunity to attend a school that makes appropriate provision for them. And the admissions and discrimination requirements, as laid out in UK law, combine to provide a strong framework that protects the rights of children and young people.

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination by schools against pupils or potential pupils in relation to admissions on the basis of ‘protected characteristics’ such as disability, religion, race and sex. However, there are two exceptions to this - admissions to single sex schools and schools of a religious character.

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Schools with a religious character may give priority in admissions to members of their own religion, but only when a school is oversubscribed. They aren’t allowed to refuse to accept pupils of another or no religion if they are not oversubscribed.

The exception would also, for example, allow a Church of England school to allocate some places to children from Hindu or Muslim families, if it wanted to ensure a mixed intake reflecting the diversity of the local population. It wouldn’t, however, allow the school to base this selection on ethnic background rather than faith.

But in practice, parents may find that schools discriminate against certain categories of pupils, such as disabled children and children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), or on the basis of other protected characteristics such as race or religion.

For example, a parent enquiring about admission to a school for a child with cerebral palsy may be told that the school doesn’t take disabled children. Or a school may seek to apply its faith-based criteria when it’s oversubscribed in a way that indirectly causes a disadvantage to children from a particular ethnic background.

If you’re concerned that your child has been refused a place at a state-funded school as a result of discrimination by the Admissions Authority, you should appeal against the decision and raise this with the Independent Appeal Panel, which must consider the Equality Act and whether discrimination has taken place, as part of your appeal.

Our experienced Education Lawyers can advise on how best to make an appeal when discrimination may be an issue. We can also advise on the alternative legal remedies you can pursue against an independent school, early years setting or further education institution.

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