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17 My child is being treated unfairly at school because of their disability. What can I do?

Schools must not discriminate against a child for a reason related to their disability unless they cannot reasonably avoid it.

First check whether the unfair treatment is covered by disability discrimination law. The law applies to admissions, exclusions, education and associated services – so most aspects of education such as teaching and learning, school trips and breaks and lunchtimes are covered. It does not cover aids and other services, however, which are covered by the law and rules on special education. Alterations to school buildings are generally covered by longer-term planning duties, which cannot usually be challenged by individual parents.

Next ask for a meeting with the school. You should try to talk to the school as soon as possible. Explain why you think they are discriminating and how you would like to see the problem dealt with.

The school is discriminating if it is treating your child less favourably for a reason related to their disability or if it puts them at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability.
It may help to look at it this way:

Is the school treating your child differently from other pupils and is this having a harmful effect?


is it treating them the same as other pupils (when they need to be treated differently) and is this having a harmful effect?

It is important to remember that if the school has a very good reason clearly connected to your child’s case for not avoiding the discrimination they may not be acting unlawfully. Examples of very good reasons might be that the solution to the problem would be very expensive or difficult to put into practice.

If you cannot sort out the problem with the school and you still believe your child has suffered disability discrimination you may want to make a claim. There are different time limits depending on who you appeal to.

  • If the discrimination is about admissions or permanent exclusions, you would make the claim to the appropriate independent appeal panel.
  • All other claims are made to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, which has a helpline for parents on 0870 616 5750.

The Disability Rights Commission may be able to help with your appeal. Their helpline is: 08457 622 633 (website:  You can also speak to one of our education advisers on 0845 345 4 345 for specialist advice. Telephone specialist advice is only available if you qualify for legal aid.


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