Equality Act 2010

What is the Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act 2010 provides a single, consolidated source of discrimination law, covering all the types of discrimination that are unlawful. The Act should make it easier for school leaders and governors to understand their legal responsibilities and tackle inequalities in education.

The Act covers all aspects of school life to do with how a school treats pupils and prospective pupils, parents and carers, employees, and members of the community. Everything a school does must be fair, non-discriminatory and not put individuals or groups of people at a disadvantage.

The protected characteristics

The Act uses the term ‘protected characteristics’ to refer to aspects of a person’s identity. Treating a person less favourably because they have one or more of these characteristics would be unlawful.

The protected characteristics

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation.

The protected characteristics of age and marriage and civil partnership apply to schools as employers, but not in relation to their provision for pupils.

Changes schools should be aware of

  • Protection against discrimination is now extended to pupils who are pregnant or have recently given birth, or who are undergoing gender reassignment.
  • It is now unlawful for employers to ask questions related to health, disability and sickness absence before a job offer is made. This means that schools should no longer, require job applicants to complete a generic health questionnaire as party of the application procedure. See section nine of Ealing’s Recruitment and Selection guidance (pdf) for more information
  • New positive action provisions allow schools to develop interventions that aim to reduce or minimise disadvantages experienced by pupils with particular protected characteristics.
  • The Act has extended the reasonable adjustment duty to require schools to provide auxiliary aids and services to disabled pupils. This duty came into force on 1 September 2012.

The public sector equality duty

Since April 2011, schools have been bound by a part of the Equality Act 2010 called the public sector equality duty (also known as the PSED or simply, the 'equality duty'). The equality duty replaces the previous three sets of duties on schools to promote disability, gender and race equality through having equality polices and action plans for these groups.

One important change is that there is now no requirement for schools to have equality policies, schemes and/or action plans. This has been made clear in the Department for Education's (DfE) updated list of statutory policies for schools (pdf)

The new equality duty has two parts: the 'general' duty and 'specific' duties.

The general duty is the overarching legal requirement for schools and means they must consider how their policies, practices and day-to-day activities impact on pupils and staff. Schools are required to have 'due regard' to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  • Advance equality of opportunity
  • Foster good relations

What does 'due regard' for schools mean?

The DfE guidance (Page 21) says that 'due regard' has been defined in case law and means giving relevant and proportionate consideration to the duty. For schools this means

  • Decision makers being aware of the duty to have ‘due regard’ when making a decision or taking an action, and must assess whether it may have implications for people with particular protected characteristics
  • Schools considering equality implications before and at the time that they develop policy and take decisions, not as an afterthought, and keeping them under review on a continuing basis
  • Integrating the PSED into the school’s functions, and ensuring the analysis necessary to comply with the duty is carried out seriously, rigorously and with an open mind

The DfE adds that schools cannot delegate responsibility for carrying out the duty to anyone else.

The specific duties

The two specific duties for schools aim to assist them in meeting the general duty. These are:

  • To publish information to show how they are complying with the equality duty. This must be updated at least annually.
  • To prepare and publish one or more specific and measurable equality objectives at least every four years.

Schools should have complied with these duties from 6 April 2012.

The government is clear that the new duties should not be overly burdensome on schools. Schools will not be required to collect any statistical data that they do not already collect routinely. Please note schools do not have to write objectives for each protected characteristic.

While schools are no longer required to summarise their approaches in statutory Equality Schemes, it may be helpful to consider reviewing how well policies, procedures and practice meet the requirements of the Act on a regular basis. You can find useful guidance and templates on this matter on the equality analysis assessment page.

Publishing equality information

Schools should publish information on:

  • The diversity of the school population.
  • How they are performing in relation to the three aims of the equality duty.
  • The diversity of their workforce, although this only applies to schools with more than 150 employees.

It is up to schools to decide in what format they publish equality information. For most schools, the simplest approach may be to set up an equalities page on their website where all this information is present or links to it are available. This may also include links to related information which must be on your school website e.g. Use and impact of Pupil Premium, SEN policy, and the school’s ethos and values.

Developing and publishing measurable equality objectives

Schools can set equality objectives to tackle any issues of discrimination, inequality and disadvantage. Objectives might be linked to challenges the school is already responding to in the school improvement plan, or can address issues and concerns identified through consultation with pupils, staff, parents and governors.

  • Narrowing gaps in attainment between groups of pupils, for example girls and boys.
  • Improving school attendance of pupils from particular groups.
  • Increasing the participation of particular groups in school activities.
  • Reduce prejudice-related bullying and the use of derogatory language.
  • Improve knowledge, skills and attitudes to enable pupils to appreciate and value difference and diversity, for example increasing understanding between pupils from different faith communities.
  • Improving the participation and engagement of different groups of parents and communities.

Equality objectives should be clearly focused and demonstrate measurable outcomes. Including a time framework, that indicates when an objective will have been in part or wholly achieved, will also enable success to be measurable.

Accessibility plans

Schools are still required to carry out accessibility planning for disabled pupils. These are the same duties as previously existed under the DDA and are replicated in the Equality Act 2010. Accessibility plans should cover:

  • Improving participation in the curriculum
  • Improving the physical environment
  • Improving the availability of accessible information

Additional sources and further reading

NGA checklist (word)
Ealing Council equall opportunities
Equality Act 2010 (Legislation.gov.uk)
DfE Equality Act guidance
Equality and Human Rights Commission - PSED duty for schools guidance (pdf)
Ofsted inspecting equalities guidance for schools (pdf)

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Last updated: 08 Jan 2018