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Chapter 5 Promoting equality, good relations and diversity

This chapter outlines the role of the Board of Governors of a grant-aided school in relation to the promotion of equality, good relations and diversity, having regard to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Targeting Social Need. It highlights the need to address current inequalities in pupils' educational attainment and the relevance of the Department's Transfer policy to raising standards for all children.

In this chapter:

Role of the Board of Governors

The role of the Board of Governors is to promote equality, good relations and diversity and to comply with education and employment legislation and anti-discrimination, human rights and equality legislation that affect its statutory duties in relation to the school.

What is promoting equality, good relations and diversity?

5.1. The concept of equality, good relations and diversity concerns itself with ensuring that people are not excluded by others from participating in the activities of society, such as education and employment, because of certain characteristics that make up their identity. In many ways, equality focuses on ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against by others. Equality works towards removing barriers to participation and taking positive steps to promote equality. Effectively promoting equality has two aspects. It involves:

  • Preventing discrimination against people because of certain characteristics that make up their identity, such as their sex, race, age, marital status, disability, religious beliefs, political opinions, dependants and sexual orientation as set out in Section 75 of the NI Act 1998
  • Taking proactive measures to promote equality for all

Good relations is about promoting respect, equity and trust and embracing diversity in all its forms.

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Inequalities in education

5.2. A high priority for the education sector is the need to address widespread and indefensible inequalities in pupils’ educational attainment. The school system here does have its strengths, enabling many young people to fulfil their potential. However, far too many Year 7 pupils transfer to post primary education with inadequate skills in literacy and numeracy and too many young people leave school without having achieved the key benchmark of 5 + GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades A* to C (including English and mathematics), the level needed to progress to higher education and employment.

5.3. 70 percent of all Year 12 pupils achieved at least 5 GCSEs or equivalent at grades A* to C in 2008/09 but this figure decreased to 57 percent when English and mathematics were included. The proportion of grammar school pupils who achieved this level was significantly higher than the proportion of pupils in other post primary schools (93 percent versus 33.9 percent in 2008/09).

5.4. Progress in raising standards is being made. Whilst, in 2006, over 12,000 young people left school not having achieved 5 or more good GCSEs including English and mathematics; in 2009 that number fell to around 9,500. However, evidence suggests that performance could be much improved across the sector. There is too high a level of underachievement and too wide a variation in standards (including between schools facing similar circumstances). For example, school leavers from the most advantaged backgrounds were twice as likely to achieve the level accepted for higher education and employment, compared to those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (63.6 percent versus 29.7 percent in 2008/09, as measured by entitlement to free school meals). Much remains to be done, not least to improve education provision that is not good enough; to further improve educational outcomes for all; and to tackle the unacceptable level of underachievement and variation in standards that continue to exist.

5.5. The Equality Commission has published 'A Statement on Key Inequalities in NI' and 'Every Child an Equal Child' which sets out a number of priority groups that have either displayed consistent educational underachievement or for which there was insufficient information to make that assessment, namely:

  • Protestant working class boys
  • children and young people from the Irish Traveller community
  • gay, lesbian and bisexual children and young people
  • looked after children and young people
  • children and young people from minority ethnic backgrounds
  • young people with caring responsibilities for parents or others
  • children and young people with disabilities
  • children and young people of new residents and migrant workers

5.6. Underachievement is a complex issue and there are often a number of connected reasons why some pupils do not achieve as highly as they should. They may face a particular barrier to learning, such as having a special or additional educational need, coping with personal or emotional problems, having English as an additional language, a lack of parental involvement in their education, or coming from a background of high disadvantage or where the value placed on education is not as high as it should be.

5.7. Educational disadvantage exists among Protestants and Catholics, boys and girls, and among ethnic minorities. Too often, it is related to socio-economic disadvantage and compounded by poverty of aspiration. While a larger proportion of Protestant boys do not achieve at least 5 good GCSEs (A* to C) including English and mathematics when compared to Catholic boys (49 percent versus 46 percent in 2008/09), the number of Catholic boys not achieving at this level was greater (2,608 versus 2,363 Protestant boys). A similar picture exists for girls, with 37 percent of Protestant pupils versus 35 percent of Catholic pupils not achieving at this level. However, overall the number of Catholic girls was greater (2,072 versus 1,786 Protestant girls). Statistics also show that boys, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, achieve less highly than girls. However, it is recognised that girls also face many barriers in their education and adult life.

Role of DE

5.8. The Department has a priority to tackle underachievement and to promote equality and the raising of standards in all schools. International research evidence confirms the correlation, evident in the performance data, between social disadvantage and poor education outcomes. In addition, data shows that young people living in urban areas achieve less highly than those living in rural areas. DE uses Free School Meals Entitlement as a measure for social disadvantage. The number and proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals is higher among Catholic than Protestant pupils. This pattern is true for girls and boys. In 2013/14 in Primary Years 1 to 7 there were 28,514 or 35 percent of Catholic pupils and 14,889 or 26 percent of Protestant pupils entitled to free school meals. In the same year in post primary schools there were 16,635 or 22 percent of Catholic pupils and 7,691 or 14 percent of Protestant pupils with free school meals.

5.9. These figures serve to illustrate the scale of the challenge faced. Yet inspection evidence from schools here, and wider research, shows that disadvantage is not an insurmountable obstacle and nor should it be an excuse for underachievement. Schools can, and do, make a difference through promoting high aspirations of achievement and demonstrating effectively the characteristics of good schooling (identified as child-centred provision, effective leadership, high quality teaching and learning and strong links with the community). This is central to the Department’s policy approach and are features which need to become successfully embedded in all schools to enable every young person to fulfil their potential.

5.10. DE is committed to promoting equality for all children and young people throughout their time at school. The overall aim of the Department is to

"educate and develop our young people to the highest possible standards, providing equality of access for all".

(see NI Executive Budget document 'Building a Better Future - Budget 2008-11')

'Every School a Good School – A policy for School Improvement' lists as an indicator of effective school performance "A clear commitment ... to promoting equality of opportunity, high quality learning, a concern for individual pupils and a respect for diversity."

5.11. Promoting equality, good relations and diversity is at the heart of DE education policies. The education policies to promote these aims include:

  • Community Relations Equality and Diversity Policy
  • Policy on Transfer from Primary to Post Primary Education
  • Early Years Strategy
  • Establishment of the Education Authority
  • Every School a Good School: A Policy for School Improvement
  • Count, Read: Succeed - A Strategy to improve Outcomes in Literacy and Numeracy
  • Every School a Good School: Supporting Newcomer Pupils
  • Every School a Good School: the Way Forward for Special Educational Needs and Inclusion
  • Expansion of the Independent Counselling Service
  • Review of Irish Medium Education
  • Schools for the Future: A Policy for Sustainable Schools
  • School circular on The Education of Children and Young People from the Traveller Community

Other important policies include 'Equal Opportunities for Teachers in Schools

Equal Opportunities for Teachers in Schools PDF 82 KB

DE has a duty to ensure that all schools comply with its policies and procedures.

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Role of the Board of Governors

5.12. 'Promoting equality, good relations and diversity' are important issues for schools, parents and local communities. School Boards of Governors as well as principals and teachers have responsibilities to promote these issues in schools and the wider community. These responsibilities are driven by DE education policies, education and employment legislation and anti-discrimination, human rights and equality legislation.

5.13. There is a need for a consistent approach by schools to promoting equality, good relations and diversity. Effective leadership by the Board of Governors will have a positive influence on the school and the wider community. The Board of Governors should consider how the school’s own policies, practices and procedures affect people in the school community particularly staff, parents and pupils.

5.14. The ethos, policies and practices of a school – and particularly their implementation – need to collectively and consistently value all young people, particularly those from minority communities and backgrounds. Education for all children and young people should be provided in an inclusive environment that is nurtured within the whole community. This environment should:

  • be positively welcoming to all, whatever their identity
  • provide equality for all and foster good relationships
  • be understanding of the way of life and cultures of different families
  • value the contribution of a diversity of cultures
  • ensure every learner fulfils their potential
  • recognise and encourage parents as primary educators

5.15. The promotion of good working relationships including support and encouragement for staff and opportunities for staff development are conducive to the effective operation of the school and whole school improvement. The ethos of the school should take account of the requirement to promote a good and harmonious working environment in which:

  • all persons are treated with dignity and respect
  • no person is subjected to harassment by conduct that is related to religious belief political opinion; sex; gender reassignment; race; age; sexual orientation; disability; being married or being in a civil partnership

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5.16. The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) guidance 'Together towards Improvement' is available on the DE website. Many ETI school performance indicators underpin the main aims of the equality legislation and evaluate how schools promote good relationships. These aims are also embedded in professional training programmes for teachers and principals. The General Teaching Council (GTCNI) includes in its core values equality, inclusion, trust and respect.

Together towards improvement

5.17. The statutory functions of school Boards of Governors that contribute to the promotion of equality, good relations and diversity are set out below.

Raising education standards in schools (Chapter 6)
Article 11 of the 1998 Education Order makes provision for setting pupil performance targets in schools and the School Development Plan provides Boards of Governors with a framework for setting and achieving strategic education goals through effective resource management.

The revised curriculum (Chapter 7)
The revised curriculum introduced a statutory duty under the 2006 Education Order to offer every young person better opportunities to succeed at school and to progress to further or higher education and employment. It provides scope for young people to learn about equality and human rights issues through Citizenship education, a compulsory subject, and the prescribed areas of learning.

The Board of Governors in consultation with the principal can consider how equality and human rights issues should be accommodated within its curriculum policy statement, based on a whole school approach and an inclusive school culture. The entitlement framework within the revised curriculum is designed to offer greater breadth and balance in the courses and pathways available to young people and to give every pupil a fair and equal chance to progress to further and higher education, training and employment.

School staff (Chapter 9)
All employers in the North of Ireland are obliged to comply with a large body of law that prohibits unlawful discrimination and harassment and which promotes equality of opportunity in employment. Accordingly, the Board of Governors must endeavour to ensure that the employment policies, practices and procedures which they apply do not give rise to unlawful discrimination and harassment.

Chapter 9 provides a list of anti-discrimination statutory codes and guidance documents, the contents and status of which are of fundamental importance for anyone dealing with human resources issues. The statutory codes do not impose legal obligations on employers; however, an industrial tribunal must take into account any provisions of the codes which are relevant to any question arising in proceedings before the tribunal.

Pupil admissions (Chapter 10)
The Department’s policy on the arrangements for the transfer of pupils from primary to post primary pupils and the cessation of the Transfer Tests aims to remove the stigma of failure placed on many children at a young age and to provide equal opportunities for all children to develop their full potential and achieve success at school.

Pupil behaviour and discipline (Chapter 15)
Under Articles 3 and 17 of the Education (NI) Order 1998, the Board of Governors has a duty to have a written statement of general principles about pupil behaviour and to ensure that the school’s policies promote good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils, and, in particular prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. Good discipline is essential to ensure the safety and well being of pupils at school and to foster their individual learning and development.

Promoting the use of the school in the community (Chapter 21)
The Boards of Governors has a role in promoting the use of the school in the local community. Schools are increasingly taking on a greater leadership role in the communities that they serve. Schools are an ideal resource to lead communities to improve good relations issues.

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Eliminating unlawful discrimination and harassment

5.18. The Board of Governors should also be aware of the anti-discrimination laws in the North of Ireland which prohibit discrimination and harassment in employment on the grounds of sex; pregnancy and maternity leave; religious belief and political opinion; race; sexual orientation and age. The laws also prohibit discrimination and harassment against people who are disabled; people who are married or who are in civil partnerships; and, people who have undergone, are undergoing or who intend to undergo gender reassignment. These anti-discrimination grounds are commonly known as the statutory equality grounds.

5.19. The anti-discrimination laws are the:

  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003
  • Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI) 2006
  • Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970
  • Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006
  • Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 (FETO)
  • Race Relations (NI) Order 1997
  • Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976
  • Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Order 2005 (SENDO)

The laws use terms such as direct discrimination; indirect discrimination; disability-related discrimination; failure to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments (in other words another form of discrimination against disabled people); victimization and harassment to describe the different types of discriminatory conduct which are prohibited.

The legislation can be read on the Office of Public Sector Information or the Equality Commission's websites.

Office of Public Sector Information

Equality Commission

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The law (for further reference)

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and the Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Order 2005 (SENDO) are the laws that prohibit disability discrimination against disabled persons (adults and children) in relation to employment and the provision of goods, facilities and services (including educational provision). SENDO also strengthens the rights of children with special educational needs to be educated in mainstream schools.

Employment Rights (NI) Order 1996 – this statute is the principal employment rights law in the North of Ireland. It regulates the entire employment relationship and provides employees with a substantial number of employment rights, including the right not to be unfairly dismissed.

The Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976 (SDO) and the Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970 prohibit sex discrimination against men and women on the grounds of their sex in relation to employment (for example, recruitment, terms and conditions, pay, dismissals). The SDO also prohibits sex discrimination in relation to the provision of goods, facilities and services (including educational provision). Furthermore, the SDO prohibits discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity, marital status and civil partnership status and gender reassignment.

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003 make it unlawful for employers and others to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation in employment, vocational training and further and higher education. The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 extend this protection against discrimination to the provision of goods, facilities and services, the management and disposal of land or premises and the provision of education in schools.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI) 2006 makes it unlawful for employers and others to discriminate on grounds of age in the areas of employment, vocational training and further and higher education.

The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 (FETO) as amended:

  • prohibits discrimination and harassment on the grounds of religious belief and political opinion
  • it applies to all employers and employees and all types of employment, including school teaching. Therefore, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person who is employed as a school teacher in respect of the terms and conditions of their employment, in their access to opportunities for training or access to other work-related benefits, or by dismissing them or subjecting them to any other detriment
  • furthermore, it is unlawful to subject a person employed as a school teacher to sectarian harassment. However, there is also an exception: by virtue of Article 71 of the FETO, it is not unlawful for the employers of school teachers to discriminate on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion in relation to the recruitment of persons as teachers in schools

The Human Rights Act 1998 requires public bodies including schools to act in a manner that is compatible with human rights. If this does not occur, a person who is negatively affected can complain to the court that their rights have been breached.

Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 addresses the conditions which will apply to persons before they come to the United Kingdom; to affect the way in which persons are dealt with at ports when arriving in the United Kingdom; to affect how they are dealt with once they are here.

The Northern Ireland Act 1998: Section 75 places obligations on a public authority when carrying out its functions to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity across nine categories and the desirability of promoting good relations across three categories.

  • A public authority must have a scheme approved by the Equality Commission showing how it proposes to fulfil the duties imposed by Section 75. DE, the Education Authority, CCMS and successor bodies are obliged to comply with Section 75, as they are designated public authorities. These designated public authorities have a duty to ensure that all schools comply with their policies and procedures.
  • Schools are not designated public authorities* for the purposes of this Act but they are expected to operate in line with the principles of the equality schemes of designated public authorities. The promotion of equality of opportunity and good relations are therefore key to the work of a school.
  • The duties imposed by Section 75 and Section 49A require more than the avoidance of discrimination. They require a public authority to seriously consider how it can promote equality of opportunity, good relations, positive attitudes towards disabled people and their participation in public life. The Guidance document by the Equality Commission contains additional information.

*The Department of Education, the Education Authority, CCMS and successor bodies are obliged to comply with Section 75 of the NI Act 1998, as they are designated public authorities. This imposes a statutory obligation on a designated public authority in carrying out its functions to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between persons across nine equality grounds. A designated public authority must also have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons across these groups.

The Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 outlaws discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin. The Irish traveller community is specifically identified as a racial group which is protected against unlawful racial discrimination. It is also unlawful to discriminate in the fields of employment, education, the disposal and management of premises, and the provision of goods, facilities and services. Segregation on racial grounds constitutes discrimination.

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A Guide for education establishments on the implications of the sexual orientation Regulations on the provision of goods, facilities, services and premises – Eliminating Sexual Orientation Discrimination PDF 1.61 MB

A Guide for School management to the Human Rights Act 1998 PDF 240 KB

A Statement on Key Inequalities, by the Equality Commission

Disability Discrimination Code of Practice – rights of access goods, facilities, services and premises

Every Child an Equal Child, An Equality Commission Statement on key Inequalities in Education and a Strategy for Intervention (2008) PDF 253 KB

Eliminating Sexual Orientation Discrimination in NI – A Guide on the provision of goods, facilities, services and premises

Section 75, the Northern Ireland Act 1998: Guide to Statutory Duties PDF 491 KB
(obligations placed on public authorities)

Curriculum materials

Resource material based on the fundamental principles of Human Rights, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, has been made available to primary schools.

'The Bill of Rights In Schools: A Resource for Post Primary Schools' is a comprehensive guide in English and in Irish for teachers in exploring human rights issues as part of the post primary curriculum. There is also a new publication, Making Human Rights Real 'A resource for teaching KS4 (Key Stage 4) citizenship for the Learning for Life and Work Curriculum in NI'. It has been produced by Amnesty International in association with the Human Rights Commission.

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