Sex discrimination in school


Sex discrimination in school might be an issue which you have encountered as a teacher.

If you’re treated unfairly because you’re a man or a woman, this is sex discrimination. It applies to men and women of any age and so it includes girls and boys.

The Equality Act 2010 says it us only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated a certain way, because of certain reasons called ‘protected characteristics’. Sex is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act. 

We’ve published another article which provides an overview of the Equality Act. 

In this article, we look at the topic of sex discrimination and what you can do if you feel that you are being discriminated against.

What does the Equality Act say about sex discrimination?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission explains you must not be discriminated against because:

  • You are (or are not) a particular sex
  • Someone thinks you are the opposite sex (this is known as discrimination by perception)
  • You are connected to someone of a particular sex (this is known as discrimination by association)

Sex discrimination in school: different types

There are four main types of sex discrimination:

1 Direct discrimination

This happens when, because of your sex, someone treats you worse than someone of the opposite sex who is in a similar situation.

2 Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination happens when an organisation has a particular policy or way of working that applies in the same way to both sexes but which puts you at a disadvantage because of your sex. Indirect sex discrimination can be permitted if the organisation or employer is able to show that there is a good reason for the policy.

3 Harassment

There are three types of harassment relating to sex. 

The first type of harassment is the same for all of the protected characteristics. It is when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.

For example:

  • A manager makes comments that there is no point promoting women because they go off to have children. Even though he doesn’t direct these comments at a particular female employee, one of his staff is very upset by this and worries about her career. This could be considered harassment

The second type of harassment is called sexual harassment. This is when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded because they treat you in a sexual way. 

This is known as ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’ and covers verbal and physical treatment, like sexual comments or jokes, touching, or assault. It also covers sending emails of a sexual nature, or putting up pornographic pictures.

For example:

  • A teacher makes sexual jokes to one of his female students and implies that she will pass her exams if she sleeps with him

The third type of harassment is when someone treats you unfairly because you refused to put up with sexual harassment.

For example:

  • A manager invites one of his female employees home after they have been out for a drink. She declines. A couple of weeks later she is turned down for a promotion. She believes this is because she turned down her boss’s proposition. 

It can also cover unfair treatment even if you had previously accepted sexual conduct.

For example:

  • The employee above did have a brief relationship with her boss. After it ended, she applied for a promotion but was turned down. She believes this is because the relationship with her manager had ended.

4 Victimisation

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

Sex discrimination in school: pregnancy

Citizens Advice explains pregnancy and maternity discrimination is dealt with differently under the Equality Act 2010. 

If you’re in the ‘protected period’ you have greater protection. The protected period runs from the start of your pregnancy to the end of your maternity leave. If you’re not entitled to maternity leave, for example because you’re an agency worker rather than an employee, the protected period ends two weeks after the birth.

It counts as pregnancy discrimination if you’re treated unfavourably because you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have a pregnancy-related illness
  • Are on maternity leave

Unfavourable treatment because you’ve taken maternity leave is pregnancy discrimination. Less favourable treatment because you are breastfeeding is a form of sex discrimination.

It counts as sex discrimination if you experience unfavourable treatment outside of the protected period because you’ve had a child. It’s also sex discrimination if your employer treats you less favourably outside the protected period because you have postnatal depression.

What to do if you are being discriminated against?

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 sex 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.