Children's Rights in Education

There are many laws in Northern Ireland related to Education, but we find that there are four laws / orders that are most useful in the Protection of our children.

These are the

Special Educational Needs & Disability Order (Northern Ireland),

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

United Nations Human rights act

United Nations Convention on the rights of the child.


In this fact sheet we intend to give you some key pieces of information, which we hope will be of use. For more detailed information please contact the Equality commission, and ask for a copy of the Disability discrimination Code of Practice for Schools and colleges.



Special Educational Needs & Disability Order (Northern Ireland),


The Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (SENDO) applies to all grant aided and independent schools including nursery schools, after/out of school clubs provided by the school,  further and higher education colleges, including the teacher training and agricultural colleges and general qualification bodies.


 SENDO was created to ensure that:-


SENDO strengthens the rights of pupils with Special educational needs to be educated in mainstream schools.


It makes it unlawful for schools to treat Disabled pupils and prospective disabled pupils less favorably than other pupils, in all aspects of school life.


It places a duty on schools to make improvements in accessibility to help, enable disabled pupils to have the same access to education as pupils who do not have a disability.


It places a duty on schools to work towards making school life more accessible to disabled pupils. i.e. in terms of premises, the curriculum and written information.


SENDO makes it Unlawful for bodies responsible for the provision of education and other associated services to discriminate against disabled pupils and prospective pupils.


SENDO covers Every aspect of school life. This includes:



Education and associated services

Suspensions and expulsions.


SENDO determines that It is unlawful for the body responsible of a school to discriminate against a disabled person:-

In the arrangements it makes for determining admission to the school as a pupil.

In the terms on which it offers to admit a child to the school as a pupil.

By refusing or deliberately omitting to accept an application for his/her admission to the school as a pupil.


SENDO also makes it unlawful

To treat disabled people less favorably for a reason related to their disability:

To fail to make ‘reasonable adjustments’,

To fail to make; where reasonable, education fully accessible to disabled people

To fail to ensure ‘victimisation’ does not occur.

The ‘reasonable adjustment’ duty is both an anticipatory and a reactive duty


Less favorable treatment


SENDO describes this type of disability discrimination in the following way

a responsible body discriminates against a disabled person if :–

For a reason which relates to his disability, or treats them less favorably than it treats or would treat others to whom that reason does not, or would not apply. If it cannot show that the treatment in question is justified”.


Failure to make reasonable adjustments


SENDO says that a responsible body also discriminates against a disabled pupil if it fails to take such steps as is reasonable for itto have had to take to ensure that:

In relation to the arrangements it makes for determining the admission of pupils to the school, disabled persons are not placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled;




In relation to education and associated services provided for, or offered to, pupils at the school by it, disabled pupils are not placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with pupils who are not disabled.


Making reasonable adjustments


SENDO makes it clear that in failing to take a particular step a responsible body does not discriminate against a disabled pupil if it shows that:


At the time in question, it did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that the child had a disability, and that its failure to take the step was attributable to that lack of knowledge.


Parents and pupils need to be aware that a request for confidentiality may limit what a responsible body may be able to do for the pupil by way of making reasonable adjustments.


Parents must inform the school of the Childs disability if they do not want the school to discriminate against their child in a matter relating to their disability.

We would suggest that parents inform the school :-

  • Of the Childs disability

  • Nature of the Difficulties the child may have

  • Supply the school with a Detailed List all the child’s problems, i.e. sensory difficulties, Johnny must not be touched, bumped into, poked etc, has communication difficulties, Johnny is literal, if you say to the class pull your socks up, Johnny will pull up his socks up, fine motor difficulties Johnny finds it difficult to write with a pen etc. “Be detailed”.


Suspending or expelling a disabled pupil


 SENDO says it is unlawful for the body responsible for a school to discriminate against a disabled pupil by suspending or expelling them from the school for a reason related to his or her disability.


The following lists are some examples of the range of activities that may be covered by SENDO

  • Admission criteria;

  • The curriculum;

  • Teaching and learning;

  • Classroom organization;

  • Timetabling;

  • Homework.

  • Activities that are other than the curriculum;

  • After school clubs and activities provided by schools to their own pupils;

  • School sports;

  • School policies;

  • Breaks and lunchtimes;

  • The serving of school meals;

  • Interaction with peers;

  • Assessment and exam arrangements;

  • School discipline and sanctions;

  • Suspension / expulsion procedures;

  • School clubs and activities;

  • School trips;

  • Work experience;


This is not an exhaustive list but is intended to help parents understand their Childs rights.


If you feel your Childs has been Discriminated against you can follow the schools complaints procedure, which is then forwarded to the schools Board of governors. (It must be pointed out that the school principals nearly always attend the Board of governors meetings).


Ask the Equality commission for an independent conciliation.

This conciliation service is said to be independent, but it can only take place if both parties agree to conciliation and the service can not impose a settlement on either party.


Legal Action


Make a complaint to the Special educational Needs Tribunal (SENDIST).

On writing this fact sheet (Nov 2008) the waiting list for the SENDIST

tribunals have an 8/9 months waiting time for hearing. If you choose this venue you must make the complaint within 6 months of the alleged discrimination.


You can contact the Equality commission with a view to taking action through the courts. (To date, November 2008, the equality commission has not taken

one case through the courts since the introduction of the SENDO in 2005.)

If you choose this avenue you must make the complaint within 6 months of the alleged discrimination.


Contact an Independent solicitor, you can contact a solicitor that has experience of Educational law, and seek justice through the courts.


Suspending or Expelling a disabled pupil


Suspensions -

SENDIST will hear cases of discrimination related to suspension as they are not covered by an appeals arrangements within schools or education boards. Again you can also take legal action through a solicitor.

(If the school talks about or does suspend a child for a difficulty related to the childs disability, inform the school and the education board that you have no choice but  to contact a solicitor; as this may be due to a lack of support given to the child by the  school and or the education board).

In some cases this has  been enough to prevent discrimination and more support being given to the child within the school.


Expulsions –

SENDIST will not hear a case if the school is a Grant maintained school, it will only hear cases if the school is an independent school. In cases of grant maintained school you can appeal to the educations boards expulsion appeals tribunal or you can contact an independent solicitor.

Once again the tribunal has time limits, which is 10 days after the expulsion.  


All the information given can be accessed from the equality commission.



The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

United Nations Human rights act

United Nations Conversion on the rights of the child.


In writing a fact sheet on children’s rights it would be negligent  not to mention the above acts and laws which are also there to protect children.


United Nations Human rights act

United Nations Conversion on the rights of the child.



Protocol 1 - Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights includes a provision that No-one shall be denied the right to an education.

This does not mean that a pupil has the right to attend a particular school. It is more a right of access to existing facilities and to gain benefit from the education received. Excluded pupils retain their right to education.


Protocol 1 - Article 3-  of the European Convention on Human Rights says that all humans have the right not to be tortured or inhumanly or degradingly treated or punished - confers an "absolute" right to which there can be no exceptions.


Torture or inhuman or degrading treatment is never allowed by the Act. In a school setting care needs to be paid to the type of discipline measures that are used in cases of misdemeanors by pupils,as they must be balanced. Teachers and pupils must not be subjected to inhuman treatment in the school setting. A school should not tolerate the threat of violence or bullying on any grounds.


School rules and regulations are allowed by the Human Rights Act so long as they are for a legitimate aim and if they are proportionate.


Restraint of a pupil is allowed, if it is to protect the rights of others or to prevent disorder or a crime. However it must never be done in a way that punishes or humiliates.


Discrimination, which denies any person their Convention rights, is not allowed.


A fair balance has to be struck between the action taken and the aim being sought, such as school discipline. The law requires the public body should not go beyond what is strictly necessary to achieve the objective.


For further information contact the Children’s Law Centre or the Department of Education, Rathgael House, Balloo Road, Bangor BT19 7PR. and ask for a copy of the leaflet for Human Rights Awareness for School Managers.



The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995


Whatever the situation children have rights under, The Children (NI) Order 1995 and the Rules which go with it.

Children have the fundamental right to have their wishes and feelings taken into account in all decisions made about them.

They have the right to be listened to, taken seriously and to express their views freely.