School’s exclusion of disabled child successfully challenged, with support from equalities watchdog

Published: 20 Jul 2023

With help from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a family has won an appeal against a school which had permanently excluded their disabled child.

A primary school near Stoke-on-Trent, permanently excluded a seven-year-old child due to his behaviour in November 2021. This behaviour was connected to the child’s disabilities: he has ADHD, autism and a sensory processing disorder. 

In January 2022, the school’s decision was unanimously overturned by the Independent Review Panel, but in February 2022, the Board of Governors upheld the decision to exclude the child. The family applied to the First-tier Tribunal (FtT) which confirmed the exclusion. 

The EHRC was concerned that the child’s disability had not been properly considered. We stepped in to provide support and funding to appeal the Tribunal’s decision. 

Following a hearing on Monday 17 July 2023, this appeal has been successful. This means that the school discriminated against the child, for which the school must apologise to the child and his family, and the inappropriate description of the child’s behaviour must be removed from school records.  

The school has agreed to train its staff on disability discrimination, and to apologise to the child and their family.  From September 2023, the child will be educated at an appropriate school elsewhere.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“Permanently excluding children from education must be a last resort, especially for disabled children.  

“This judgment makes clear that, where schools exclude a disabled child for reasons linked to their disability, they must show that the exclusion was for good reason, and that no other realistic options were available.  

"Education appeals and tribunals must also consider the proportionality of exclusions and whether other options were available. We are pleased that this family’s appeal was successful. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. 

“Excluding children from school because they are disabled is discriminatory. The EHRC will continue to work to make sure that disabled children are not permanently excluded without proper consideration of other reasonable steps that could be taken first.” 

The grandmother, who wishes to remain anonymous following the distress caused by the case, said: 

“The last two years have been extremely stressful for us as a family as we took our child’s case through the lengthy legal system.  

“It was hard to take legal action against a school that we previously had a good relationship with. But the impact of their actions against our child made it necessary to seek justice.  

“We feel that Staffordshire Local Authority should be held accountable. Local Authorities must acknowledge the impact of their decisions on children and their families.  

“To have a little 7-year-old write a letter to his school begging to speak to his peers because he didn’t understand why he couldn’t go to school was heart-breaking. To have him out of school for over 20 months at a crucial part of his life when he should have been making friends, enjoying life and learning at school has been devastating to him and to our family, especially after the upheaval of Covid.  

“We are extremely grateful to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for their support.  To have their help felt like a lifeline was thrown to us at the most crucial time. We feel that it is important to ensure that people know about the EHRC and how they can help. We know many families will understand the feeling of drowning in this constant sea of battles that we face as parents and carers.” 

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Equality and Human Rights Commission helped fund this case as part of our powers to provide legal assistance to victims of discrimination under section 28 Equality Act 2006, and the family were represented by the law firm Rook Irwin Sweeney. 
  2. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued guidance on what schools must do under the Public Sector Equality Duty, including making reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils. 
  3. First-tier tribunals deal with disputes in a number of different legal areas, which are detailed on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website.  

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