What do I need to know about the Equality Act?


You might not have enough time to read the Equality Act in full but you should be aware that it legally protects you from discrimination in school. This article provides an overview of the main features of The Equality Act and how it affects your employment.

The Equality Act was published in 2010 and can be accessed via the GOV.UK website. It replaced previous legislation such as the Race Relations Act 1976, Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

The Act applies to all maintained and independent schools, as well as academies and free schools in England and Wales.

How must my school adhere to the Equality Act?

The Equality Act legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It sets out the different ways in which it is unlawful to treat someone. Many of the rules and regulations at your school will be informed by the Equality Act.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published advice for schools on how to fulfil their duties under the Act.

Essentially, everything a school does must be non-discriminatory and not put people at a disadvantage in the workplace.

The Act defines a number of types of unlawful behaviours. Your school would be in breach of the Equality Act if you are subject to:

  • Direct discrimination
  • Indirect discrimination
  • Discrimination arising from disability
  • Victimisation, because you have made a complaint about discrimination
  • Not receiving reasonable adjustments for a disability you have
  • Harassment related to a ‘protected characteristic’

Equality Act: what are ‘protected characteristics’?

The Act uses the term ‘protected characteristics’ to refer to aspects of a person’s identity. If your school treats you less favourably because you have one or more of these characteristics it would be unlawful. Protected characteristics are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Equality Act: how could you be discriminated against?

One scenario could be you are turned down for promotion at work because you feel your line manager does not agree with your sexual orientation and you are victimised as a result.

You would have to collect evidence to be able to prove this. For example, other teachers could overhear a conversation between you and your line manager where you line manager says that “gay people are not able to teach infant classes at this school as it causes issues with parents”.

Another example could be that your school forces you to work on the top floor when you have difficulty climbing the stairs because of a disability. Your school does not make any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help reach your classroom or does not swap classrooms around to allow you to teach on the ground floor.

In addition, another scenario could be your school does not allow you to wear your turban in the classroom. You should not be discriminated against for wearing religious dress.

Any form of dress should not interfere with the teaching and learning process, and pupils should be able to see your face. Turbans, hijabs, kippah and headscarves should be allowed but should not compromise health and safety. Edapt has produced an article looking at dress code policies in schools.

What should I do if I’ve been discriminated against?

You will want to follow your school’s grievance procedure to raise the issue in a formal way.

Edapt has produced another article which outlines how to raise a grievance at your school. If you feel your rights have been breached as part of the Equality Act please contact us.

Was this article helpful?

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.