Learning and your rights

Information on the rights of children with disabilities who are attending primary and secondary school.

Special Educational Needs and disability discrimination in education

Special Educational Needs legislation provides that a child has special educational needs (SEN) if he or she has a greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age, or has a disability which makes it difficult for the child to use the same facilities as other children.

Legislation provides rights to children with SEN to be educated in mainstream schools where their parents want this and the interests of other children can be protected. It also provides for the Education Authority to assess a child who has SEN. Following this assessment the Authority may decide to prepare a report. This is called a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN).

A Statement of SEN is a document that sets out the child's needs and the special help that will be provided to help meet those needs. The protection of a statement will be given to children whose needs are such that resources additional to, or different from those normally available in mainstream schools must be allocated by the Education Authority.

The Department of Education's SEN Code of Practice explains how special educational needs are met.

Disability discrimination in schools

As well as their Special educational needs rights , children with disabilities have the right not to be subjected to disability discrimination by the schools in which they are pupils or to which they are applying to become pupils. 

Special Education Needs (SEN) legal protections:

  • makes it unlawful for schools to treat pupils with disabilities less favourably than other pupils in all aspects of school life, without lawful justification
  • place a duty on schools to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that pupils with disabilities are not put at a great disadvantage compared to pupils who do not have disabilities (however there is no duty to remove or alter physical features of premises or to provide auxiliary aids and services – although such things might alternatively be provided under a Statement of SEN)
  • places a duty on the Education Authority and schools to plan strategically and make progress in increasing accessibility to schools’ premises and to the curriculum and in improving the way in which written information is provided to pupils with disabilities

The Equality Commission provides advice and guidance about Special educational needs legal protection and has produced a code of practice for schools.

Disability discrimination in further and higher education

Special educational needs legal protection also applies to further and higher education where it:

  • makes it unlawful for institutions of further and higher education, such as universities, to subject students, and prospective students, with disabilities to disability discrimination, including disability-related harassment
  • places a duty on these institutions to make reasonable adjustments to make sure that students with disabilities, including prospective students, are not put at a great disadvantage (compared to people who do not have a disability) in accessing further and higher education and during their studies there

The Equality Commission provides advice and guidance about the legislation and has produced a code of practice for colleges of further and higher education.

Disability discrimination by general qualifications bodies

It is unlawful for general qualification bodies to discriminate against people with disabilities around the award of prescribed qualifications.

Two sets of regulations have been made:

  • the first sets outs the enforcement mechanisms for claims of unlawful discrimination against a general qualifications body and makes provision for alterations to premises that are occupied by a general qualifications body under a lease.
  • the second lists qualifications coming under the scope of the law and makes clear that the granting of exemptions from one or more components of an assessment or examination in certain circumstances will be lawful.

The Equality Commission has published two guidance publications for qualification bodies. These are:

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