Racial discrimination in school


You might feel like you have been the victim of racial discrimination at your school. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) explains that racial discrimination is when you are treated differently because of your race in one of the situations covered by the Equality Act.

We’ve written another article summarising the Equality Act here.

In this article we explain what racial discrimination is, and the actions you can take if you suspect you are being discriminated against in your school.

What is racial discrimination?

The Equality Act 2010 says you must not be discriminated against because of your race. 

The EHRC explains that in the Equality Act, race can mean your colour, or your nationality (including your citizenship). It can also mean your ethnic or national origins, which may not be the same as your current nationality. For example, you may have Chinese national origins and be living in Britain with a British passport.

Race also covers ethnic and racial groups. This means a group of people who all share the same protected characteristic of ethnicity or race. 

A racial group can be made up of two or more distinct racial groups, for example black Britons, British Asians, British Sikhs, British Jews, Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers.

You may be discriminated against because of one or more aspects of your race, for example people born in Britain to Jamaican parents could be discriminated against because they are British citizens, or because of their Jamaican national origins.

Is there different types of racial discrimination?

Citizens Advice explains there are four main types of racial discrimination. It can be direct or indirect, it may also take the form of harassment or victimisation. We outline these different types below:

Direct race discrimination

It is direct race discrimination to treat someone less favourably than someone else would be treated in the same circumstances, because of race. To prove direct race discrimination, it will help if you can give an example of someone from a different racial group who, in similar circumstances, has been, or would have been, treated more favourably than you. Racist abuse and harassment are forms of direct discrimination.

One example of direct race discrimination is where you are from a particular racial group and an employer refuses to appoint you because, the employer says, you ‘wouldn’t fit in’. It’s also direct discrimination if an employer turns you down for a job because of your connection with someone else of a particular racial group. For example, an employer might turn you down for a job because your partner is Afro-Caribbean.

Indirect race discrimination

It is indirect race discrimination to have a rule or policy which people of a particular racial, ethnic or national group are less likely to be able to meet than other people, and this places them at a disadvantage.

Examples of indirect discrimination might include:

  • an employer insisting that candidates for a job should have UK qualifications
  • the banning of wearing headscarves, or insisting on the wearing of skirts, at work or at school

We have written another article on the topic of adhering to dress codes in schools.

If you think that indirect race discrimination might have occurred, you may be able to make a complaint about it. However, if the person or organisation you are complaining about can show that there are genuine reasons for the rule, policy or practice and that it has nothing to do with race, this won’t count as discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 says if someone has a good enough reason for treating you unfairly, they may be able to justify discriminating against you. The Equality Act says discrimination can be justified if the person who’s discriminating against you can show it’s a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

For example, an employer may be able to show why an employee needs to have gained their qualifications in the UK in order to work in a particular role. If they can do this, there won’t have been any discrimination.


Harassment occurs when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded. For example:

  • a young British Asian man at school keeps being called a racist name by colleagues. His colleagues say it is just banter, but the employee is insulted and offended by it

Harassment can never be justified. However, if an organisation or employer can show it did everything it could to prevent people who work for it from behaving like that, you will not be able to make a claim for harassment against it, although you could make a claim against the harasser.


This is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint of race related discrimination under the Equality Act. It can also occur if you are supporting someone who has made a complaint of race related discrimination. For example:

  • the young man in the example above wants to make a formal complaint about his treatment. His manager threatens to sack him unless he drops the complaint

Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent race discrimination in:

  • recruitment
  • determining pay, and terms and conditions of employment
  • training and development
  • selection for promotion
  • discipline and grievances
  • countering bullying and harassment
  • when an employee is dismissed

What should I do if I have been subject to racial discrimination?

ACAS explains that if someone feels they have been discriminated against, they may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. However, it’s best to talk to the employer first to try to sort out the matter informally, in order to minimise the negative effects on all parties involved.

We have written another article which summarises what is involved in an employment tribunal.

If you are an Edapt subscriber and you feel you have been discriminated against because of your race you can contact us for further advice and support.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.