Are schools ready to publish their equality objectives?
On October 2010, the Equality Act 2010 replaced all existing equality legislation such as the Race Relations Act, Disability Discrimination Act and Sex Discrimination Act. In England and Wales the act applies to all maintained and independent schools, including academies, and maintained and non-maintained special schools. In Scotland it applies to schools managed by education authorities, independent schools and schools receiving grants under section 73(c) or (d) of the Education (Scotland) Act.
The Equality Duty
The public sector Equality Duty at section 149 of the Equality Act, requires public bodies to consider all individuals when carrying out their day-to-day work – in shaping policy, in delivering services and in relation to their own employees. It requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.
By understanding the effect of their activities on different people, and how inclusive public services can support and open up people’s opportunities, public bodies can be more efficient and effective
The Equality Duty supports good decision making – it encourages public bodies to understand how different people will be affected by their activities, so that their policies and services are appropriate and accessible to all and meet different people’s needs. By understanding the effect of their activities on different people, and how inclusive public services can support and open up people’s opportunities, public bodies can be more efficient and effective. The Equality Duty therefore helps public bodies to deliver the Government’s overall objectives for public services.
I am sure that school business managers were aware of the implications the Equality Duty imposed upon their school in that schools and academies were required to publish their annual data on equality in their workforces. This information should have been published by 31st January 2012, not 31st December 2011 as was the case under the original proposals set out in the Equality Review. This did not apply to those schools and academies with fewer than 150 employees, but these bodies would need to have workforce information to meet their obligation to publish objectives and carry out equality analysis of related policies and practices. This statutory deadline date to publish equality information is the 6th April 2012 and the information must be available in a manner that is reasonably accessible to the public. Schools will need to extend their previous collection and use of information on race, gender (including gender reassignment) and disability to also include age, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief and sexual orientation.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is responsible for assessing compliance with and enforcing the Equality Duty. It has powers to issue compliance notices to public bodies that have failed to comply and can apply to the courts for an order requiring compliance. The Equality Duty can also be enforced by judicial review. This can be done by the commission or any individual or group of people with an interest. It is important therefore that school business managers ensure that they comply with the Equality Duty.
Equality Impact Assessments
Whilst it is not a legal requirement of the Equality Duty to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA), I would advise that your school initially conducts an assessment to ensure that it is acting within the duty. If you decide against this, then SBMs should be concentrating on the aim of the Equality Duty as part of the process of decision making; basically this entails understanding the effect of the school’s activities on different people. I would advise that records are kept of any decisions that are made with regard to your employees and the Equality Act.
Should your school decide to conduct an EIA then you should consider the following:
- assess the likely (or actual) effects of policies on staff, students, parents, visitors, stakeholders in respect of disability gender, including gender identity and racial equality
- promote equality
- ensure that the school’s policies do what they are intended to do
- identify any equality practices that may have been missed
- identify negative or adverse impacts
- amend equality policies in relation to identified impacts
- any unlawful discrimination impacts must be addressed.
Conducting an EIA should be completed systematically across all areas with consideration being given to the size and structure of the school. A simple Excel spreadsheet could be used including:
- who is responsible for the EIA
- who is will be involved: decision makers, stakeholders, etc.
- start date – prior to any policy being written or decision made
- end date – however, the EIA is a working document and the end date of that particular assessment will not be the finish of the EIA. Consistent review is required
- relevance of the policy
- policy aims
- addressing the impact
- monitoring and review
- action plan
- decision making – signing off the EIA.
It is particularly important that you show evidence of the involvement of people with a disability in the assessment process, usually at the development stages
I feel that consultation in an EIA is most important and is where you must be able to show that you have involved all stakeholders within the assessment, for example staff, students, parents, trade unions, partner organisations (LA disability group, MIND etc.). It is particularly important that you show evidence of the involvement of people with a disability in the assessment process, usually at the development stages. In fact, I understand that it is a legal requirement to involve people with disability right at the outset in all instances.
Depending on the section of the act that you are assessing, you may find it useful to hold meetings but in this case it would be wise to keep them informal as some people feel particularly uncomfortable in these situations. Local ethnic minority organisations and racial equality councils could also help you organise consultation meetings. The usual questionnaires or interview surveys could also be undertaken if you are intending to reach a far wider audience. Remember to maintain anonymity and to give feedback to participants.
With this in mind there will be four outcomes to an EIA.
- No change – the policy is robust, with no adverse impacts or potential discrimination.
- Adjustment of the policy – impacts have been identified and amended.
- Continue with the policy – identification of adverse impact or missed opportunities, justification should be set out within EIA.
- Stop and remove the policy.
Once completed, publishing your objectives couldn’t be simpler. It is a public statement of your commitment to ensuring equality is mainstreamed into the core business of the school. Consider publicising your objectives through your website or additional media such as a newsletter or a report. Your report will include any equality impacts that you have identified either through an EIA or through your monitoring of the Equality Duty in your everyday working practices.