A person has a disability, according to the Equality Act 2010 advice for schools, if they have a physical or mental impairment that significantly and persistently limits their ability to carry out daily tasks.

A school is thus prohibited from discriminating and being unlawful against a disabled student in any area, including admissions, instruction, exclusion, or denial of opportunities or choices. All educational activities, including assessments and internal exams, behaviour and discipline management, and use of school facilities, are included in this provision of education, as well as any extracurricular and recreational activities, after-school and homework clubs, sports activities, and field trips. To know more, contact our solicitors!

Definition of a disabled pupil

According to Section 6 of the Equality Act of 2010, a student is considered to have a handicap if they suffer from a physical or mental impairment that significantly and persistently limits their capacity to perform daily tasks.

Autism is a lifelong disorder that affects how people see the environment and interact with others and is included in the category of “mental disabilities.” This is probably true for the majority of autistic persons, but one need not have a diagnosis to be deemed impaired.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments by a school: Case Study

The First-tier Tribunal determined that by refusing to offer reasonable accommodations so that a child with a visual impairment may take his 11+ entrance exam, an English grammar school discriminated against the student in violation of the Equality Act 2010 (the 2010 Act).

The case background

The young person (X) had submitted an application to Reading School, a grammar school. Because of his eyesight impairment, X needed special accommodations (such as using larger font) before he could take the admission exam.

He was given the option to take the test at a different Slough Consortium of Grammar Schools school. The institution said they could not make the necessary alterations because it would cost more than £2,000 the day before the exam was scheduled to take place.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission received the case from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) (EHRC). The RNIB claimed that it has been worried for a while about how accessible admission tests were for young people who are visually impaired.

A legal challenge to Reading School before the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) was supported by the EHRC and RNIB. The lawsuit was filed in accordance with section 85 of the 2010 Act, which prohibits schools from using discriminatory practices while making decisions regarding an applicant’s admission. The school, according to X, discriminated against him based on his disability by failing to offer the reasonable accommodations needed by the 2010 Act.

What was the result?

Reading School acknowledged at the hearing that the suggested alterations were reasonable and hence necessary in accordance with the 2010 Act. They asserted that they were exempt from making the adjustments since they were unaware of the request (which had been made to the Slough Consortium of Grammar Schools). The Tribunal rejected this claim and ruled in X’s favor, concluding that Reading School had to make reasonable accommodations in order for X to take the entrance exam.

All schools that administer entrance tests will be impacted by this decision. The school will still be required to make reasonable accommodations to ensure that handicapped students do not have a significant disadvantage over non-disabled pupils even if a consortium is used. The Tribunal specifically advised that all consortia have a formal agreement outlining the modifications to be made for children with disabilities taking admission tests.

Following this decision, the EHRC wrote to every grammar school, every selective school, and every consortium in England to remind them of their responsibility to not discriminate against children with disabilities.

How can independent schools make reasonable adjustments and avoid disability discrimination?

Independent schools in Scotland may have to decide whether to make reasonable accommodations for a prospective impaired student taking an entrance exam. Reading School violated the test in this instance even though it was not conducting the test, highlighting the need for independent schools to pay close attention to their commitments regarding reasonable adjustments. It is hence the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupil and stay away from discrimination arising from disability.

A school must bear in mind to keep away from both, direct discrimination and indirect discrimination. Since each situation will depend on its own unique conditions, the 2010 Act provides no direction on how these obligations should be carried out. A non-exhaustive list of elements that should be taken into account by a school when evaluating what modifications they need to make is provided in the EHRC’s Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland. These include:

  • The resources of the school and the availability of financial or other support, as well as
  • The financial and other costs of implementing the modification.
  • How effective any given action would be in overcoming the significant disadvantage sustained by a disabled student?