The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights launched this week will be able to take action against local authorities and schools who do not fulfil their legal duties to promote equality.
Headteachers need to be aware that there will be higher expectations for their schools to fulfil a wide range of duties from now on. This includes the duty to promote racial harmony, which came into force this September. Under this edict, schools and academies are expected to promote community cohesion, and have been issued with a list of government guidelines. They must provide lessons in citizenship to teach pupils about ethnic minorities and introduce cultural aspects to a range of after-school activities.
The gender equality duty came into force in April 2007, requiring local authorities and maintained schools to introduce gender equality schemes by April 30. The duty requires the promotion of equality between men and women, so that neither males nor females are treated less favourably in any aspect of the work and service provided.
The disability equality duty requires that all public bodies prepare and maintain a disability equality scheme, taking steps to involve disabled pupils, parents, staff and interested members of the community. The duty applied to all secondary schools from December 2006 and to all primary and special schools from December 2007.
Each school's scheme should set out its priorities: for example, staff training in differentiated behaviour management or reducing exclusions of disabled pupils. Two codes of practice, one for schools and one for the post 16 sector, are available from the Disability Rights Commission site.
For all of these new duties, schools are expected to demonstrate that, as well as having written schemes, they actually practise equality.
Former headteacher and trades union legal adviser
* www.cehr.org.uk; www.drc-gb.org