Loophole allows schools to 'discriminate against autistic children'

Equality Act loophole being used to exclude children with challenging behaviour, MP claims

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A loophole in the Equality Act is being used by schools "to discriminate against children with autism", a Conservative MP has warned.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) said schools were using the legislation to exclude children with challenging behaviour linked to their condition – which the current Act makes no allowance for.

"Too often, the system makes it difficult to ensure their children get the very best, particularly when it comes to education," said Mr Vickers.

"It is an irony that the Equality Act is being used to discriminate against children with autism."

He made the comments as he proposed the School Admissions (Special Educational Needs) Bill in Parliament through the Ten Minute Rule Motion procedure, which allows backbench MPs to bring forward legislative proposals.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Vickers said the law requires schools to make "reasonable adjustments" to ensure disabled children can do the same things as their non-disabled peers.

But a loophole in the law means a child's disruptive behaviour is not linked to their condition, Mr Vickers said.

He added: "If their disability could result in aggressive behaviour towards others in the school, the law on disability discrimination does not help them, and some governing bodies use 'tendency to physical abuse of others' as a reason not to meet the needs of an autistic child, and excludes them.

"Of course, governors have a duty to others in the school, but it can sometimes be too easy to refuse admission, rather than facilitate a solution."

Mr Vickers gave one example of parents in his constituency whose son had been excluded from his primary school on account of challenging behaviour linked to his condition.

Mr Vickers told the Commons the parents felt disabled children were being "villainised" and "made out to be the bad guys".

He added: "I must ask members to put themselves in the shoes of parents who find barriers being placed in front of them.

"They want to prevent their children being discriminated against, and surely that must have been the intention of the Equality Act.

"I recognise that much good work takes place, but parents of autistic children can sometimes have an uphill task in ensuring a full and comprehensive education is made available.

"Society has made great strides in recent years about how we educate and care for the disabled, whether that disability be mental or physical, but there is still some way to go."

Mr Vickers asked for the Bill to be debated in the Commons on December 16, but it is unlikely to proceed without government support.

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