Right to education

Everybody has the right to an effective education.

Parents also have a right to ensure that their religious and philosophical beliefs are respected during the children’s education.


The right to education does not give you the right to learn whatever you want, wherever you want.

The courts have ruled that the right to education relates to the education system that already exists. It does not require the government to provide or subsidise any specific type of education.

The government is allowed to regulate the way education is delivered. For example, it can pass laws making education compulsory or imposing health and safety requirements on schools.

School admission policies are permissible so long as they are objective and reasonable.

Although parents have a right to ensure their religious or philosophical beliefs are respected during their children’s education, this is not an absolute right. So long as these beliefs are properly considered, an education authority can depart from them but only if there are good reasons for doing so and it is done in an objective, critical and pluralistic way.

What the law says

Protocol 1, Article 2: Right to education

No person shall be denied a right to an education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

Example cases

Simpson v United Kingdom (1989)

Parents of children with special needs can argue that the needs of their child require special facilities that may have to be respected by the educational authorities. However, this is not an absolute right, and the authorities will have discretion as to how they allocate limited resources.

Authorities can legitimately seek to integrate a child with special needs into a mainstream school, even if this is not what the parents want.

(Case summary taken from Human rights, human lives, Department for Constitutional Affairs, 2006.)

R (Hounslow London Borough Council) v School Admissions Appeal Panel for Hounslow London Borough Council (2002)

A primary school in West London prioritised admission of children living in the school’s designated catchment area. Some parents of children who lived outside the catchment area but who had siblings attending the school appealed against decisions not to admit their children on the basis that their admission would exceed class sizes. The court held that the school’s admission policy giving preference to residence in a particular area over sibling attendance did not violate the right to education. The court emphasised that where applications exceed the number of school places, admissions authorities have to make practical admission decisions which are objectively fair and by a process which is fair. Among other things, this means that each application must be properly considered on its merits before a final decision is made.

(Case summary provided by the British Institute of Human Rights)

The Queen on the Application of K v London Borough of Newham (2002)

A devout Muslim wished his 11- year-old daughter to be educated at a single sex school. For religious reasons he felt that it was inappropriate for a girl beyond this age to mix with boys or young men at school. There was nowhere on the admissions form for him to indicate this view and it was not considered by either the admissions authority or the appeal panel. The court held that this was a violation of his right to ensure his religious beliefs were respected in the education of his daughter. The court stressed that it was the failure to consider the father’s religious convictions which gave rise to the violation, and not the decision itself.

(Case summary provided by the British Institute of Human Rights)

Last Updated: 09 Jun 2009