Sex discrimination in education

You have the right not to be discriminated against because of your sex in education or when you apply for a place on a course or at a school or college.

These rules apply to both state-funded and private schools, universities, Further Education colleges and other education providers.

For more information on the responsibilities of education providers, see either Guidance for Education providers: Schools or Guidance for Education providers: Further and Higher Education.

What is sex discrimination in education?

Discrimination in education can happen in several ways, for example:

Direct sex discrimination

A mixed sex school attempts to maintain a gender balance in the school by admitting one sex and not another when places are limited. This is likely to constitute direct sex discrimination and to be unlawful.

Indirect sex discrimination

You may experience indirect sex discrimination if a condition or requirement of admitting you to a course or institution applies equally to both male and female applicants but, in fact, significantly fewer members of one sex would be able to comply with it.

In order to show indirect sex discrimination has taken place, it is helpful to have statistics to show that the condition would adversely affect more members of one sex.


It is unlawful for the governing body of an institution of further or higher education to subject you to harassment if you are a student at the institution or have applied for admission to the institution.

This would also apply if you were being harassed by an employee of your college, as the college would probably be liable for the harasser's acts.
Harassment is defined as either:

  • unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you or;
  • unwanted conduct on the grounds of your sex which has the same effect. This does not have to be sexual in nature and could include, for example, being bullied, if you feel that the harasser would not treat somebody of the opposite sex in this way.

More information

Last Updated: 01 Jul 2009