Admission to single-sex schools

As a single-sex school you are permitted to admit pupils of only one sex and this would not constitute sex discrimination. This applies if you are a single-sex school that admits pupils of the opposite sex on an exceptional basis or admits them in comparatively small numbers only to particular courses or classes. This also applies if you are a mixed-sex school which has single-sex boarding. There are special transitional provisions if you are a single-sex school that ceases to be a single-sex school and turns co-educational.  

This means that if you are a school which admits only boys you are not discriminating unlawfully against girls. And even if the daughters of certain staff members at the boys’ school are allowed to attend, you are still regarded as a single-sex school and are not discriminating unlawfully against girls by not admitting any girls other than daughters of staff.

If you are a boys’ school which admits some girls to the Sixth Form, or which lets girls attend for a particular GCSE course not offered at their own school you are still regarded as a single-sex school. You are not discriminating unlawfully if you refuse to admit girls to classes and other courses other than the particular ones for which you have made an exception.

For example:

A boys’ school which admits girls to A-level science classes is not discriminating unlawfully if it refuses to admit them to A-level media studies or maths classes.

These exceptions only apply to admissions and do not apply to the provision of education, or access to benefit, facility or service or exclusion.

So if as a single-sex school you do admit some pupils of the opposite sex, you must not discriminate against them in the provision of education, or access to any benefit, facility or service or by excluding them.

If you are a co-educational school which only offers boarding to one sex you are not acting unlawfully by not offering boarding to both sexes. So if you are a mixed-sex school which has facilities for female boarders you can lawfully state in your prospectus that boys cannot be accepted as boarders.

Schools with a religious character

If you are designated as a school with a religious character you are exempt from the requirement not to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief in relation to admissions. This means that you may have admissions criteria which give preference to members of your own religion. If you are a maintained school with a religious character you must still comply with the Admissions Code and therefore the criteria are only used to determine who is admitted if you are oversubscribed. In practice this might mean that you are unable to impose religious criteria, if you are not oversubscribed, or you might be able to select all of your pupils on religious grounds if you are heavily oversubscribed.

This exception does not allow you to discriminate on any other of the prohibited grounds, such as sex, race or sexual orientation.  

For example:

A Muslim school may give priority to Muslim pupils when choosing between applicants for admission. However, the school may not discriminate between pupils based on other protected characteristics, such as by refusing to admit a child of the school’s own faith because she is of African origin or a lesbian.

Disabled pupils and selection on academic ability or aptitude

If you are a selective school selecting on the basis of academic ability or aptitude as described in You must not discriminate in the arrangements you make for deciding who is offered admission as a pupil to your school, it is not unlawful for you to apply the same selection criteria to disabled children who apply for admission.

Permitted forms of selection in England and Wales are the selective admission arrangements operated by grammar schools, and selection by ability and aptitude in accordance with the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 as set out in You must not place terms on a person'd admission to your institution which are discriminatory.

Permitted forms of selection in Scotland are those arrangements approved by Scottish Ministers.

So if a child with learning difficulties fails your entrance exam you can lawfully reject their application for admission even though the reason they failed the exam is because they are disabled.

However, you must comply with your duty to make reasonable adjustments which may include making adjustments to the assessment process, for example, providing the exam paper in large font for a visually impaired pupil, or allowing rest breaks for a pupil with ME.

The permitted form of selection exception does not allow you to refuse admission to any disabled child, it just allows you to refuse admission to a child whose disability prevents them from meeting the academic level required for entry to the school.  

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