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Education rights in England

Learn which laws protect your child’s rights in education. You can also find out about the changes your child’s school should make to include your child, how absences should be recorded, how exams should be made accessible, and how to make a complaint if you have any concerns.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 provides a wide range of important legal rights for those who have a ‘protected characteristic’. This includes children who meet the legal definition of disabled.

If your child has a permanent deafness, they will be considered to have a disability. If your child has a temporary hearing loss, such as glue ear, the laws will only apply if their hearing loss:

  • has lasted or is likely to last for 12 months or more, or
  • is likely to happen again in the next 12 months.

Under the Equality Act:

  • Your child has the right to not be discriminated against because of their deafness.
  • Public services, which include schools, must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure deaf children can get involved, that they’re not disadvantaged, and that their education is accessible to them.
  • Public services are expected to think about how they can promote equality of opportunity for deaf children, and about the impact that their policies, procedures and decisions have on deaf children and their families.

We have more information about the Equality Act and your child's rights in education.

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are changes which a service or organisation should make so that people with a protected characteristic, such as a disability, are not disadvantage and have the same opportunities as non-disabled people. By law, schools must make reasonable adjustments for children who meet the definition of disabled.

The law doesn’t say exactly what is or isn’t a reasonable adjustment. This is because what’s reasonable in one set of circumstances might be unreasonable in another. For example, a very small school in an older building may find it harder to improve their acoustics, whereas a larger school in a modern building and with a bigger budget may find this easier. All of the circumstances need to be taken into account and the provider must consider these thoroughly.

Examples of reasonable adjustments in education

Reasonable adjustments which some deaf children may find helpful include the following.

In school:

  • Providing a good listening environment in the classroom for learning.
  • Providing a quiet room and allowing a friend to join your child at break times.
  • Making sure support staff are available on the playground to help organise some games.
  • Allowing a student to come in early to school or stay behind so they can have extra help with their homework.
  • Providing information in an accessible format (for example, making sure videos have subtitles).
  • Making sure staff learn the necessary or appropriate level of British Sign Language (BSL), if that is what your child uses.
  • Printing out homework in advance.
  • Adjusting the pace and length of a learning session.
  • Using visual cues to support teaching.
  • Creating opportunities for one-to-one and small group work.
  • Checking a child’s level of understanding during and after a lesson.
  • Providing equipment and technology, such as radio aids or flashing fire alarms.
  • Providing deaf awareness training for staff and students at the school.
  • Writing down homework rather than giving it verbally.
  • Making adjustments to help deaf children access specific subjects, like learning a foreign language or music lessons.
  • Meeting a child’s communication needs. For example, if your child uses sign language, they’ll need qualified sign language interpreters to access the curriculum.  

During school admission:

  • Allowing extra visits to the school and at quieter times.
  • Staggering school start dates or gradually increasing the amount of time a child spends at school.
  • Providing you and your child with photos of staff and school areas, maps and timetables.
  • Giving opportunities to meet other deaf students before your child starts.   
  • Giving information in an accessible format (for example, translating any materials into BSL).

Identifying adjustments for your child

Let the school know if your child is facing any barriers to learning and needs extra support. It’s helpful to suggest specific adjustments where possible. These will depend on your child’s individual needs and their circumstances.

Here are some suggestions to help identify possible reasonable adjustments.

  • Your child may already have ideas on how they would like to be supported.
  • Ask your Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) or other relevant professionals such as a speech and language therapist, audiologist or class teacher.
  • The special education needs coordinator (SENCO ) at your child’s school. 
  • Local groups with other parents – find a local deaf children’s society near you.
  • Accessibility plans of similar schools and other local schools. Check the school’s website for these.

If your child has an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, the provision to meet these should be set out in Section F as their required special educational provision. If they don’t have an EHC plan, speak to the school about what your child will need. For more information about whether your child might need an EHC plan, contact our Helpline.

If your child’s school does not agree to make reasonable adjustments or provide reasonable adjustments that have been agreed, and you think your child may have been discriminated against, contact our Helpline for advice.

Transport to school 

Some deaf children are entitled to free home-to-school transport from their local authority.

Your child’s eligibility for transport will depend on:

  • if their home-to-school journey is longer than the statutory walking distance, which is two miles for children younger than 8 and three miles for children aged 8 to 16 years
  • their special education need (SEN) or disability and if this means it’s unreasonable to expect them to walk to school (even if they live within the statutory walking distance)
  • their social and family circumstances
  • the suitability of the walking route for a child of their age and capability.

If your preferred school is beyond the set walking distance, but the local authority considers that there’s a suitable school with places available which is nearer, it doesn’t have to provide transport.

Your local authority must publish a Local Offer, which includes information about travel to and from school. Look on your local council website or contact them directly for more information. Find your local council.

Exam access arrangements

Schools must make reasonable adjustments to help deaf students access tests, assessments and exams fairly.

Examples of access arrangements for deaf children include:

  • extra time
  • use of technology such as radio aids or streamers
  • a reader (someone who reads exam questions aloud)
  • a scribe
  • a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter.

To get access arrangements put in place for exams, your child’s school will need to show the exam boards that these are part of your child’s ‘normal way of working’. If you think your child will need access arrangements for their exams, discuss this with their special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) or Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) well in advance of any exams or assessments.

If your child has an EHC plan, access arrangements should be discussed at their annual review.

For further information, see:

Absence recording

Your child may need to miss school often for audiology or other medical appointments.

School absences are recorded as authorised or unauthorised. If you’ve let your child’s school know about their medical appointment in advance, this should be counted as an authorised absence.

Some schools have an attendance reward scheme to encourage children to attend school and discourage parents from taking their child out of school unnecessarily. Attendance reward schemes are fine as long as they make reasonable adjustments to make sure they aren’t putting disabled children at a disadvantage.

For example, a reasonable adjustment could be to have a policy where children are rewarded as long as they have 100% attendance for the time they could reasonably be expected to be in school, that is, not including medical appointments or any time off due to their disability. Read the government's information about School attendance and absence.

If you have any concerns about how your child’s absences are being recorded, contact our Helpline.

Making a complaint

If you have a concern or complaint about your child’s education, it’s important to know who to speak to about it.

Complaining about your child’s school

Before making a complaint, read up on policies and guidance that could help you.

  • All state-funded schools should have a complaints policy, which should be available on their website. Ask to see this policy so you know what to expect and how your complaint should be handled.
  • Ask if the school has specific policies relating to the issue you’re complaining about, such as an equal opportunities policy or anti-bullying policy.
  • The Department for Education has published a list of all statutory guidance for schools that schools must follow to comply with the law.

To make a complaint about your child’s school, follow these steps:

  1. If possible, raise your concern or complaint informally with the people involved. For example, if you’re worried about your child’s progress, talk to their class teacher or the school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO).
  2. If the person you’ve spoken to can’t help, or you aren’t satisfied with their response, you could make a formal complaint to the headteacher.
  3. If you aren’t happy with the school’s response to your complaint, the next step is to raise it with the school governing body. The complaints policy or any letter you receive in response to your complaint should explain how to do this and when you can expect a response.
  4. If you’ve taken the school’s complaints policy as far as possible, you can take the issue further by contacting the Department for Education to complain about a school (GOV.UK).

Tips for making a complaint

  • If possible, always raise any concerns you have informally before making a formal complaint. 
  • When making a formal complaint, make it clear that you’re making a formal complaint and ask them to treat your complaint in line with their complaints policy. 
  • Think about what you want your complaint to achieve. Do you want an apology? For the other person to admit they made a mistake? To make sure bad practice doesn’t happen again? Make sure you explain what you want to happen when you make the complaint. 
  • Try to keep all correspondence in writing and keep copies of any letters, emails, meeting notes or reports to do with the complaint. If you speak with someone on the phone, keep a record of what was said and the name of the person you spoke with. These records may be useful later if you need to take your complaint further. 
  • Read up on your rights in education. Sometimes, just showing that you’re aware of your rights can make it more likely that your complaint will be taken seriously. 
  • Try to stay calm and polite. It will be easier for other people to dismiss your concerns if they feel that you’re being aggressive or unreasonable. 

Help with your complaint 

For advice on making a complaint, contact our Helpline. If you need specialist advice, they will refer you to one of our Advice and Guidance Officers who can give one-to-one advice and guidance.  

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