Image of The UK Equality Act 2010: Promoting Inclusivity and Equality in Education

The UK Equality Act 2010: Promoting Inclusivity and Equality in Education

In this blog, Catrina Lowri, neurodiversity and inclusion trainer, mentor, and consultant, explores the significance of the Equality Act 2010 in an educational context, examining its purpose, recent updates, and how it’s implemented within schools to foster an environment where everyone has equal opportunities to thrive.

What is the Equality Act?

In the pursuit of creating a just and inclusive society, the UK passed the Equality Act in 2010, landmark legislation aimed at promoting equality, diversity, and inclusivity across various aspects of life.

The act looks at nine ‘protected characteristics’. This refers to a range of individual demographic, social, and health- based traits which may cause a person to require adjustments to access activities within the school or college community. It’s important to note that this applies to staff as well as pupils, as it may be that a colleague requires accommodations to work effectively. Pupils and staff with these attributes also have legal protection, and schools and colleges have a duty to safeguard against discrimination.

In short, schools need to provide equity as well as equality of opportunity to both staff and pupils.

What are the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010?

There are nine protected characteristics that are covered under this law, which are:

1. Age: This refers to protecting individuals from discrimination based on their age, whether they are young, middle-aged, or elderly

2. Disability: People with physical or mental impairments that have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities are protected against discrimination. Note that this also applies to non-visible disabilities such as neurodivergent conditions including, but not exclusive to, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, OCD, tick disorders and developmental language disorders

3. Gender reassignment: This protects individuals who are undergoing, have undergone, or intend to undergo a process to change their gender

4. Marriage and civil partnership: The Act ensures that people are not discriminated against based on their marital status or whether they are in a civil partnership

5. Pregnancy and maternity: This protects pregnant women and new mothers/parents against discrimination, including discrimination related to maternity leave

6. Race: This covers discrimination based on a person's race, ethnicity, nationality, or national origin

7. Religion or belief: This protects individuals from discrimination based on their religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or lack of belief

8. Sex: This protects individuals from discrimination based on their biological sex

9. Sexual orientation: This protects individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual

The Equality Act 2010 ensures that individuals with these protected characteristics are treated fairly and equally in various areas, including employment, education, access to goods and services, and public functions. It aims to foster a society where everyone has equal opportunities and is free from discrimination and prejudice.

The DfE published ‘Equality Act 2010: advice for schools’ to help schools understand how the Act affects them and how to fulfil their duties under it. The guidance is for the following roles:

  • school leaders
  • school staff
  • governing bodies
It applies to the following settings:

  • local-authority-maintained schools
  • academies and free schools
  • local authorities
  • non-maintained special schools
  • independent schools
Under the Act, all public sector organisations have a duty to:

  • remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by people due to their protected characteristics
  • adjust services to meet the needs of people from protected minority groups where these are different from the needs of other people
  • encourage people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low
In the case of schools and colleges, all staff need to make reasonable accommodations so that those from minority groups with protected characteristics can take part in all activities. They should focus on making participation possible and remove all foreseeable barriers, especially where engagement from protected groups is low.

Guidance on separation by gender is available in the DfE’s ’Gender separation in mixed schools’, whilst more general information can be found on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website. Further updates are expected about gender recognition, but these have yet to be announced.

Purpose of the legislation for schools

The primary purpose of the UK Equality Act 2010 in education settings is to ensure that all students and staff, regardless of their backgrounds, abilities, or characteristics, are treated fairly and without discrimination. The Act enforces protection against discrimination based on the nine protected characteristics.

By following the guidance provided, schools are expected to create an inclusive learning environment where every student is free from bullying or intimidation based on their protected characteristic. The Act obliges schools to make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities, address issues related to harassment, and promote equal opportunities for all students to participate in class and extracurricular activities, and access school facilities, trips and excursions. This is with the aim that every child or young person feels respected, valued, and empowered to reach their full potential.

Understanding the most recent updates

Updates to the Act have recently been proposed, although they have not yet become law. These apply to public and private sector employers. The proposed ideas relate to:

  • duty of care by public sector organisations around third-party harassment
  • duty to prevent sexual harassment. Failure to do so could increase settlement pay outs by 25%
  • guidance on the definition of sex and gender
Potential updates may encompass changes to the list of protected characteristics, the process of making reasonable adjustments, or additional resources to support schools in promoting equality and tackling discrimination.

How to refer to and use this within an education setting

To effectively implement the guidance provided under the Equality Act 2010, educators should consider the following steps:

Awareness and training: Ensure that all school staff members and governors are aware of the Equality Act 2010 and its implications. Conduct training sessions to help educators understand their responsibilities, and equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to create an inclusive environment.

Equality policies: Develop and regularly review the school's equality policies, incorporating the principles of the Equality Act. These policies should outline the school's commitment to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion, preventing discrimination, and addressing any incidents that may arise.

Promoting inclusive education: Integrate equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging into the school curriculum, ensuring that students learn about different cultures, histories, and perspectives. Encourage open discussions about diversity and inclusion to foster understanding and empathy among students.

Addressing discrimination and bullying: Establish clear procedures for reporting and addressing incidents of discrimination, harassment, or bullying. Ensure that students and staff feel comfortable in reporting such incidents and that appropriate action is taken promptly.

Reasonable adjustments: Implement reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities to ensure that they have equal access to education. This might include physical adaptations, alternative teaching methods, or specialised support.

Collaboration with parents and the community: Engage parents and the local community in promoting equality and inclusion. Collaborate with external organisations to provide additional support and resources for students with specific needs.

The UK Equality Act 2010 represents a significant milestone in promoting equality and inclusivity within the education system. By adhering to its guidance, schools can create an environment where every student feels valued, respected, and supported in their educational journey. As society evolves, so too will the Act, making it crucial for educational institutions to stay updated on any changes, and continue striving towards a more equitable and inclusive future for all.

If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.