What are protected characteristics in education?
and what do you need to do in your school to get it right?
Part of our Teacher Training & Wellbeing series
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Part of our Teacher Training & Wellbeing series
PSHE, British Values, SLT, P4C, VfS, Personal Development, SRE... the list of specilist vocabulary in education is vast and if you're new to the classroom it can be very easy to be overwhelmed.
It also sometimes feels like new terms are cropping up all the time, and until a staff meeting is called to explain the lastest word on the block, you could end up wondering 'what on earth are protected characteristics and what do I need to do about them?' You wouldn't be alone.
With that in mind, we've created this go-to guide all about Protected Characteristics to get you and your school up to speed.
The term 'Protected Characteristics' first made its appearance in The Equality Act 2010 which defined nine protected characteristics that are protected from discrimination. The act came about after many years of campaigning from organisations like trade unions and equality and human rights NGOs.
The nine protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Schools have a legal obligation to promote equality and tackle discrimination based on these characteristics.
To see more detailed definitions of each protected characteristic and how it can impact a student's experience in education, use the drop down options below:
Discrimination based on age is unlawful, and everyone should be treated equitably, regardless of age.
Younger students may be seen as immature or inexperienced, while older students may be viewed as more mature or responsible. Additonally, during adolescence, students may experience hormonal changes that can impact their physical and emotional well-being, such as puberty or menstruation. For example, female students may face stigma or exclusion related to menstruation or pregnancy, while male students may face assumptions about masculinity or aggression. These stereotypes can lead to discrimination, negative stereotypes or exclusion from certain activities or opportunities.
Reasonable adjustments must be made to provide equal opportunities for students with disabilities.
Disabled students may face physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent them from accessing education, such as inaccessible buildings, lack of assistive technology or support, or negative attitudes from peers and staff. Disability discrimination can limit students' opportunities and undermine their potential.
Discrimination against transgender individuals is illegal, and they must be treated with dignity and respect.
Students who are transitioning may face harassment, bullying, and discrimination from peers and staff who are not supportive of their gender identity. This can lead to poor mental health, social isolation, and academic difficulties.
Married and civil partnered individuals must not face discrimination.
Students with parents or carers who are married or in a civil partnership may face assumptions and stereotypes about their family structure or their ability to focus on their education. Similarly, students with divorced or separated parents may face stigma or negative stereotyping that can impact their self-esteem and well-being. Furthermore, students with same-sex or LGBTQ+ parents may face discrimination or exclusion from certain activities or opportunities based on their family structure. It's important to create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment that respects and celebrates diversity in all its forms.
Discrimination against pregnant individuals or those on maternity leave is illegal.
Pregnant or parenting students may face negative attitudes and stereotypes from peers and staff, such as assumptions that they are less committed to their education or that they cannot succeed academically while also caring for a child. This can lead to social isolation, academic difficulties, and discrimination.
Discrimination based on race or ethnicity is illegal, and everyone should be treated equitably.
Students from ethnic minority backgrounds may face racism, discrimination, and negative stereotyping from peers and staff. This can impact their self-esteem, sense of belonging, and academic performance, as well as limit their opportunities.
Discrimination based on religion or belief is illegal, and individuals' beliefs must be respected.
Students from different religious or belief backgrounds may face discrimination, bullying, or negative stereotyping based on their beliefs. This can lead to social isolation, conflict, and exclusion from certain activities or opportunities.
Discrimination against men, women, and non-binary individuals is illegal.
Students may face sexism, gender stereotyping, and harassment based on their sex or gender identity. This can impact their self-esteem, mental health, and academic performance, as well as limit their opportunities.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, including discrimination against individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any other sexual orientation.
Students who identify as LGBTQ+ may face homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia from peers and staff, as well as discrimination or exclusion from certain activities or opportunities. This can lead to social isolation, mental health problems, and academic difficulties.
Schools have a legal obligation to promote equality and tackle discrimination based on the nine protected characteristics outlined in the Equality Act 2010. This means that they must take active steps to ensure that all students are treated fairly and have equal access to opportunities and resources, regardless of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation. The following 7 steps will help ensure that you have got it covered in your school:
By providing staff training and development on protected characteristics, unconscious bias, and inclusive practices, you can create a more aware and knowledgeable school community. This can lead to more inclusive teaching practices and a greater sense of belonging for all students.
Designing and delivering a curriculum that is inclusive and celebrates diversity, you can help students feel seen and valued. Make sure that all students have access to positive representation of different cultures, identities, and perspectives in the curriculum.
Developing and implementing policies and procedures that are inclusive and promote equality for all students works to create a safer and more welcoming school environment. This can include policies on bullying, harassment, and discrimination, as well as policies that support students who may require additional accommodations or adjustments.
Providing support for students who experience discrimination or inequality based on protected characteristics can help them feel supported and empowered. This can include counselling services, peer support, and mentoring programs.
Promoting a positive school culture that values diversity and inclusion helps to create a sense of community and belonging for all students. This can be achieved through celebrating cultural events, promoting respect and tolerance, and encouraging positive relationships between students of different backgrounds.
Encouraging open and respectful communication among students and staff, you can build trust, promote understanding, and reduce the likelihood of discrimination or exclusion. By modeling respectful communication and actively listening to your students, you can create a more inclusive classroom environment.
The most simple yet effective way to ensure that your school is meeting many of the above steps is by taking part in weekly VotesforSchools lessons. VotesforSchools creates new, topical lessons every week that encourage students to make their opinions heard, while offering positive representation of different cultures, identities, and perspectives in the curriculum. The resources focus heavily on oracy, teaching young people how to communicate in an open and respectful way, and how to identify and tackle discrimination in its different forms.