Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Equality Act 2010 Part One

The Equality Act 2010 was passed just before last year's general election. It replaced existing equality legislation, including the Race Relations Act, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, with a single, consolidated, discrimination law. Most of the provisions of the Act came into force on 1 October 2010, but a new public sector Equality Duty, which followed from it, was only introduced in April this year.

The Equality Duty replaced the three previous duties on race, disability and gender, bringing them together into a single duty and extending it to cover age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment. It requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations in the course of developing policies and delivering services.

Confusion arose over the specific duties that the government has the power to impose on public bodies to enable them to carry out the Equality Duty more effectively. Whilst draft regulations on these specific duties were published on 12 January this year, the government decided that they still contained too many 'unnecessary process requirements' and set about developing new regulations with what it called 'the wider policy objective of ensuring that public bodies consider equality when carrying out their functions without imposing unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy'.

Following the completion of consultations on these revised regulations, the government plans to bring the specific duties into force in July. In the meantime public bodies still have to comply with the general Equality Duty, with reference to guidance and a code of practice issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

As well as consolidating the previous duties on race, disability and gender, the new Act has also introduced some changes that directly affect schools. In particular, it is now unlawful for schools to discriminate against pupils who are pregnant or have recently had a baby, or against any pupil who is transsexual. It is now also unlawful to victimise a child because of any action taken under the Act by a parent or sibling.

Similarly, members of staff are entitled to be treated without discrimination It is no longer lawful for employers to ask job applicants health-related questions before making a job offer, unless these relate specifically to an intrinsic function of the work. There is an acknowledgement that this may appear to conflict with existing guidance for schools on establishing fitness and ability to teach, as required by the Health Standards (England) Regulations 2003. The DfE is considering the implications of this but has asked schools, in the meantime, to review their existing practices to ensure that they are complying with both the Health Standards Regulations and Section 60 of the Equality Act. One suggestion is that schools may decide to ask necessary health questions after a job offer has been made.

There are also new provisions on 'positive action', which will enable schools to introduce measures to alleviate disadvantages experienced by some groups of pupils without this being treated as discrimination against other pupils.

Written by: David Gordon

About the author

David Gordon is an author, writer, editor and qualified lecturer and has also been a parent governor. He has been the editor of School Governor Update since its launch in 2000.

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