The Equality Act 2010 replaced nine major pieces of legislation.
In his first annual report as Chief Inspector of Education, Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote:
“In the most effective schools, the headteacher and governors establish a clear vision, rooted in an unwavering commitment to ensure the success of every pupil. Equality of opportunity is at the heart of this vision, with an insistence that all pupils will do well.”
Avoiding discrimination and promoting equality supports the agenda of improving the attainment and progress of all pupils, regardless of theircircumstances and backgrounds.
The Equality Act 2010 replaced nine major Acts of Parliament, as well as almost one hundred sets of regulations, dealing with equality and discrimination. The Act provides a single consolidated source of discrimination law, covering all the types of discrimination that are unlawful.
It 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. In particular, a school must not discriminate, harass, or victimise a pupil or potential pupil in relation to:
- The way it provides education for pupils.
- How it provides pupils access to any benefit, facility or service.
- Excluding a pupil or subjecting them to any other detriment.
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 are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
Since April 2011, schools have also 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 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.
The two specific duties for schools aim to assist them to meet the general duty. Schools should have complied with these two duties from April 6, 2012. They 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.