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Disability discrimination claims

Disability discrimination claims

Academies, MATs & Schools

 

Advice and legal representation for schools and academies

There has been a marked increase in recent years in the number of disability discrimination claims being issued by parents against schools and academies under the Equality Act 2010.

These claims - lodged by parents on behalf of their child - must be brought in the First Tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). The process differs from civil claims in other courts in a number of ways. Notably, parents cannot include a claim for financial compensation, however the Tribunal can make any other Order it deems appropriate. These commonly include a declaration that the alleged prohibited conduct has occurred, along with Orders to apologise in writing, review and amend school policies and/or arrange whole school training. Where the pupil has been permanently excluded or is not being educated on-site, the Tribunal has the power to direct that they be reinstated.

The first that a school or trust will know about the claim is receipt of a registration order and case management directions (along with the claim form, Claimants' documents and guidance) from the Tribunal. The directions will include the entire timetable for the proceedings, including a date for the final hearing along with short deadlines that must not be missed, otherwise there is a risk that the school will be barred from participating in the proceedings.

The timetable is short, and the various directions can be onerous for schools to meet. If the school will have any difficulty meeting any of the directions (for example, because they fall on or immediately precede a school holiday), urgent action must be taken by the school to bring this to the Tribunal's attention in the prescribed way.


Are there other financial implications for the school?

Most schools and academies have insurance (or are members of the DfE's Risk Protection Arrangement (RPA), an alternative insurance scheme for schools) which covers legal costs incurred in responding to (or defending) the allegations registered as claims (including instructing a specialist solicitor of their choice, rather than one of the insurer's panel solicitors).

Schools must notify their insurer (or the RPA) as soon as possible after the claim bundle is received, and give them the name of the specialist law firm they would like to instruct, in order to obtain confirmation of cover and approval to proceed.


How can we help?

Our discrimination disability lawyers can help you by:

  • providing advice on notification to the school's insurer or the RPA
  • reviewing the claim documents, along with relevant documents provided by the school, and providing detailed specialist advice on equality law, the Claimants' claim and its strengths and weaknesses, and any potential defences
  • instructing a specialist barrister (Counsel), having negotiated their fees which will be covered by the insurer or the RPA
  • preparing the school's formal response to the claim (ie defence)
  • advising on which documents should be filed/served with the response (and subsequent directions) and preparing/redacting them as necessary
  • assisting with the preparation of formal witness statements, and advising on the witnesses whose details should be included in the attendance form, which must be submitted to the Tribunal with the response and documents
  • preparing the indexed and paginated hearing bundle in the prescribed way, which the school will be ordered to undertake, and circulating it to the Tribunal (electronically) and Claimants (in hard copy) when directed
  • arranging for Counsel to attend the Final Hearing to represent the school
  • advising on the judgement, once it has been received, and any ancillary matters flowing from that or the proceedings

Quick Enquiry


For specialist advice on disability discrmination, please contact Yvonne Spencer on 0207 665 0870 or Joanna Goddard on 0207 665 0805 for an initial discussion.

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We provide academies with experienced education lawyers who are always on hand to give practical solutions to problems and the confidence to react positively to opportunities.

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Yvonne Spencer - Partner & Education Lawyer in London - VWV Law Firm
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