Public Sector Equality Duty: Guidance for Schools

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Governing bodies, academy trust boards, management committees for pupil referral units, head teachers and staff at all state funded primary and secondary schools.
  • It applies to maintained schools, state-funded faith schools, special schools and pupil referral units.

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • England flag icon


What this guidance covers

Below you will find five obligations of the PSED you must meet as an education provider:

  1. Have ‘due regard’ to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation
  2. Have ‘due regard’ to the need to advance equality of opportunity
  3. Have ‘due regard’ to the need to foster good relations
  4. Publish equality information
  5. Publish equality objectives

The guidance on this page is non-statutory. This means that schools are not legally required to follow it, however it may help schools in England meet their their legal obligations. Whilst schools are not legally required to follow this guidance, it could be used as evidence in legal proceedings.

For the purposes of this guidance, we use two types of examples:

  • case law examples are real legal cases which show what has happened to schools who have failed to meet the PSED. For cases settled in court, a link to the case’s judgement is also provided in this guidance; and
  • good practice examples are scenarios we have created to demonstrate how schools can meet their PSED obligations.

This guidance does not cover how schools can meet the PSED as employers or when supplying or purchasing goods and services.

For information on this, please refer to our:

An introduction to the PSED in schools

The PSED is a duty on public authorities (including schools) to consciously consider how their policies or decisions affect people who share protected characteristics.

For school pupils, these are:

  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Age and Marriage and civil partnership are protected characteristics, but they do not apply to pupils in schools.

You can read more about the protected characteristics or watch a short video.

Parents and pupils also may make a legal challenge against a school (through judicial review proceedings) if they believe it has not complied with the PSED.

The PSED has two main parts: the general equality duty and the specific duties.

The general duty

The general equality duty says that schools must consciously consider (have due regard for) their need to:

  1. Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by the Equality Act 2010.
  2. Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
  3. Foster good relations across all protected characteristics – between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

For a school, having ‘due regard’ means:

  • Schools must integrate the general equality duty within all their operations. They should do this rigorously and meaningfully. It should not be treated as just paperwork or a tick-box exercise.
  • When making a decision, taking an action or developing a policy, a school must consciously consider what the implications would be for the equality of pupils with protected characteristics. This includes current pupils and those who apply to attend the school.
  • A school should not wait until after they have taken an action, made a decision or implemented a policy. It should consider equality implications before and during the process. This is often called the 'anticipatory nature of the duty'.
  • Before adopting a policy, taking an action or making a decision, a school should:
    • assess whether there may be any resulting risks to, or adverse effects for, pupils with protected characteristics;
    • consider how such risks or effects may be eliminated.
  • The duty to consciously consider (have due regard to) equality considerations is a continuing one. This means schools should regularly review all their policies and practices (especially those that are most relevant to equality) to make sure they are meeting this requirement.
  • It is good practice for schools to:
    • record how they have considered the PSED;
    • identify the policies that are most relevant to equality and keep them under regular review.
  • Schools cannot delegate responsibility for carrying out the duty to anyone else.

A school’s uniform policy allowed pupils to wear only one pair of plain ear studs and a wristwatch. A Sikh pupil attended school wearing her Kara (a narrow steel bangle with great significance for Sikhs). A teacher asked the girl to remove it because it didn't comply with the school's uniform policy. The girl asked to be exempted from the policy but the school refused.

The court said it had seen no evidence that the teaching staff appreciated their obligations to fulfil the general equality duty. The school had breached the general duty by failing to:

  • consider how it applied to its school uniform policy
  • have due regard to the duty when making decisions in response to the girl's wish to wear the Kara once the issue arose.

What schools need to do to meet the specific duties

Schools must do the following:

  • publish equality information by 30 March each year (schools with fewer than 150 employees are exempt from the requirement to publish information on their employees, but may wish to do so anyway, to improve their equality information);

  • prepare and publish one or more specific and measurable equality objective (this came into effect on 30 March 2018 and needs to be completed at least once every four years); and
  • publish information once a year  on the gender pay gap of employees, where the school employs 250 or more staff.

Gender pay gap information

Making sure your school meets the PSED

Below you will find a summary of a school’s responsibilities in relation to the PSED. 

Before and while making a decision, taking an action or planning a policy, assess the implications for pupils with protected characteristics. A school must:

  • assess whether there may be any resulting risks to, or adverse effects for, pupils with protected characteristics, and
  • consider how such risks or effects may be eliminated.

For more explanation, read: eliminating dicrimination, harassment and victimisation.

Keep these considerations under review after you have made the decision, taken the action or implemented the policy.

You should eliminate potential discrimination in the day-to-day running of your school. Take steps to remove or minimise any disadvantages experienced by pupils because of their protected characteristic. Providing training for school staff on how to comply with the PSED can help you do this.

Schools must comply with the PSED to make sure no one is disadvantaged by their policies or decisions. This legal obligation belongs to the school and cannot be delegated to others.

The interests of all pupils need to be balanced when meeting the different needs of pupils who share a protected characteristic.

You should ensure the needs of potential applicants to your school are considered as well as current pupils.

Identify areas of school life where you can improve participation from pupils who share a protected characteristic when participation is disproportionally low.

Engage in effective partnerships with local authorities, schools, parents, guardians, carers and members of local communities. Encouraging initiatives through these partnerships can help to foster good relations between different groups of pupils across all protected characteristics.

We have explained this further under eliminating discrimination, harassment and victimisation. 

You should record the steps you take to meet the PSED and monitor the success of any equality-related objective you implement. 

Publish information annually to demonstrate how your school is complying with the PSED. This needs to be done by 30 March each year. Schools with fewer than 150 employees are exempt from the requirement to publish information on their employees, but may wish to do so anyway to improve their equality information. 

Prepare and publish one or more specific and measurable equality objective. This came into effect on 30 March 2018 and needs to be completed at least once every four years.

Key questions for education providers to ask

  1. Does the general equality duty apply to your school? Independent fee-paying schools are not covered by the PSED. However, they are subject to the Equality Act 2010. It is therefore a requirement for independent fee-paying schools to comply with the parts of the Act covering prohibited conduct.
  2. Are you aware of the deadline dates for the specific duties?
  3. Do decision-makers and others have clear guidance about how to publish equality information? It is essential that they understand their role and the importance of keeping clear records when they are making decisions.
  4. Are all decision-makers in your organisation fully aware of their obligations?
  5. What information do you have about pupils, parents, guardians with particular protected characteristics (including data collected from any engagement)?
  6. Is your equality information available in a clear and appropriate format so it can be used to influence policy development effectively?
  7. Do you have a process for getting your equality evidence to decision-makers in your organisation at the right times?
  8. Do you have systems for using the general duty when you are reviewing or changing your policies if circumstances change at your school?

Eliminating discrimination, harassment and victimisation

The general equality duty explains what issues schools need to think about before making significant decisions and considering new policies and procedures. Schools need to consider whether the policy or decision is likely to result in discrimination against pupils with protected characteristics.

Our technical guidance on the public sector equality duty: England includes definitions of:

  • direct and indirect discrimination
  • harassment, victimisation
  • reasonable adjustments
  • discrimination arising from disability.

Schools should use the PSED when making decisions, including about school activities, to identify what pupils need. The needs of pupils should be weighed against the school's other priorities.

A primary school plans a trip to a local history museum. Before confirming the trip, it checks the accessibility of the venue. One of the pupils is deaf and the museum does not have a hearing loop. This would mean the pupil is unable to participate fully in the trip.

Hair discrimination

Another way in which schools can prevent discrimination is by reviewing their policies and practices to ensure they comply with the Equality Act 2010.

For instance, schools may have particular policies or rules related to hair or hairstyles which could result in unlawful indirect discrimination against pupils with certain protected characteristics, for example:

  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • gender reassignment

You can find detailed information and more examples on discrimination related to hair in the following resources:

A school had a policy banning boys from wearing certain hairstyles, including cornrows. A pupil challenged the ban, arguing that exceptions should be made when cornrows were worn for cultural and family reasons.

The court found that the policy was indirectly discriminatory. Family and social customs can be part of ethnic origins and therefore fall under the protected characteristic of race. The school would need to change the policy to avoid being in breach of the Equality Act 2010.


The Equality Act 2010 prohibits schools from discriminating against pupils during the exclusions process. Schools must consider the general equality duty when making decisions about discipline and exclusions. They should take care not to make assumptions that may lead to unlawful discrimination.

To eliminate discrimination, we encourage schools to analyse, monitor, review and publish their non-confidential data about how they use temporary and permanent exclusions. This is to ensure pupils with specific protected characteristics are not being affected by exclusions disproportionately. The Equality Act also says schools must make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils when imposing discipline or exclusions. Disabled pupils should not be put at a substantial disadvantage to their non-disabled classmates by a school’s exclusion policy or disciplinary action. For example, you might need to adapt your disciplinary sanction or use a different one.  

You can find additional information in our guidance on exclusions

A pupil with a learning disability is excluded for repeatedly getting up from his seat during lessons and disrupting other pupils. It is the school’s policy that repeated disruptive behaviour is punished by exclusion.

The school has a duty to consciously consider (have due regard to) the need to remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by disabled pupils. It decides to consider making reasonable adjustments to its policy, such as:

  • working with the pupil to find a way to help him to remain in his seat during lessons to minimise disruption to the class, and
  • developing further strategies to be added to the pupil’s Education Health and Care plan.

The school also decides to:

  • inform relevant staff about the pupil’s specific needs and the reasonable adjustments they need to make to avoid discriminating against him, and
  • record the pupil’s requirements on classroom management systems. 

Advancing equality of opportunity

Some groups of people who share a protected characteristic, such as race or disability, may experience particular disadvantage or have particular needs. The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) means public authorities (including schools) must consider whether they should take action to meet these needs or reduce inequality.

The Equality Act 2010 says public authorities should think about the need to:

For example, a school has been informed that pupils from the local Irish Traveller community do not have access to the internet at home. The school makes sure the pupils are able to access the work in an alternative format.

For example, a school that is based in an area where a significant proportion of the school’s pupils are Jewish decides to not put on a performance on a Friday evening.

For example, a school identifies that boys are much less likely to participate in arts classes compared with girls. It decides it will make plans to actively encourage more boys to join these classes.

What schools should do

The PSED can remind schools that equality is not necessarily about treating all pupils in an identical way. It is about developing different strategies to meet the various needs of pupils. These strategies should also be monitored to find out how they are working.

Schools should consider how each decision, action and policy may affect pupils with different protected characteristics. This can help identify what their priorities are.

Advancing equality of opportunity encourages schools to consider how to increase the participation of their pupils with different protected characteristics in areas of school life where it is disproportionately low. This extends beyond the curriculum to areas of the school’s activities such as organising work experience opportunities.

Three questions to answer

When creating a new policy, taking an action or making a decision, you may find it useful to answer these three questions:

  1. Does this remove or reduce disadvantages suffered by pupils with particular protected characteristics?
  2. Will this affect different groups of pupils differently? If 'yes' what will you do to make sure nobody is disadvantaged?
  3. Is there any way you can encourage these groups of pupils to become more involved with the school or create opportunities for them that they wouldn’t otherwise enjoy?

Collecting and using information and data

Where appropriate, schools should ask for pupils to tell them about their experiences of school activities. This is a good way to understand the needs of different protected characteristics so they are taken into account and bring about positive experiences for these groups.

A secondary school decides to revise its literacy policy. The school governing body is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the new policy.

It analyses its data on GCSE English results at Key Stage 4 and discovers there is a significant gap opening up between boys and girls. The head teacher asks those who are developing the policy to consider this gap. In doing so they shouldn’t overlook the needs of girls who are also falling behind in English. As a result, the school decides to try a variety of things, including:

  • inviting male authors to visit the schools and discuss their work
  • developing English lessons which break down stereotypes and misconceptions about boys (for example, that they are not interested in arts or academic success).

These activities are included in the school development plan so the head teacher can report to the school governing body on their progress.

A local authority had reduced the school budget for special educational needs and disability without doing a consultation first. A court found that it had breached the PSED (broken the law).

For the local authority to comply with the PSED it needed to demonstrate they had consciously considered (given due regard to) the equality of its pupils. The local authority had been under a duty to gather more information and understand the effect of its decision on disabled pupils and pupils with special educational needs.

A primary school sees from its online performance data that achievement levels of disabled pupils are below national figures. They are also significantly below those in comparative schools.

The school seeks to improve the learning experiences of its disabled pupils to help close attainment gaps. Members of the senior leadership team and staff consult disabled pupils and their parents to get a more in-depth understanding of pupils’ needs, abilities and aspirations.

Staff combine this information with their academic data on pupils to design a series of initiatives for pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). The school decides it will:

  • ensure all disabled pupils have the reasonable adjustments they need
  • give training and support to staff
  • monitor the success of the initiative by collecting feedback from parents and pupils and tracking individual progress.

The following case study shows how you can make improvements at your school by separating (disaggregating) your data according to different protected characteristics.

A secondary grammar school looks at its information on what their boys and girls do after they finish school. It finds that few girls are going into science or technical careers or working in trades (this is ‘occupational segregation’ or job stereotyping). It also discovers that many boys and girls from a specific racial group are not choosing engineering subjects. It finds that there are striking differences between the choices made by this racial group and others.

As a result, the school:

  • starts running taster sessions in year nine for all pupils
  • invites male and female speakers who have made non-traditional career choices to share their experiences with pupils.

The school monitors its progress by collecting new information. Early indications show that girls and pupils from this racial group now are more likely to consider non-stereotypical career options and choose science and technical subjects.

Using positive action to advance equality of opportunity

Positive action can help schools meet their PSED obligations, particularly the need to advance equality of opportunity.

Schools can take positive action to support pupils who share protected characteristics if they have reason to think that those pupils: 

a. experience a disadvantage because of their protected characteristic

b. have needs that are different from the those who do not share that characteristic

c. participate less often in an activity compared to pupils without that characteristic.

Positive action is not a requirement, but it can allow schools to take proportionate action to reduce or remove the disadvantages faced by particular groups of students.

The Department for Education's guidance on the Equality Act and Chapter 7 of our Technical Guidance for Schools in England contain more information and examples of positive action.

Fostering good relations

To comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), schools should encourage (foster) good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t. Does your school environment provide a respectful and inclusive environment?

When creating a policy, taking action or making a decision, ask:

  • Does this help us to remove prejudice?
  • Does this promote understanding between different groups of pupils, school staff and parents?

A primary school is concerned there may a problem with homophobic bullying because a boy in year four is being bullied for having same-sex parents. As a result, the head teacher asks all teachers to report incidents of homophobic bullying and name-calling.

Information gathered by the school shows that homophobic name-calling is most common in years four, five and six. The head teacher asks school staff to research curriculum resources and classroom strategies to reduce and eliminate this homophobic behaviour.

In the meantime, the school arranges to talk with the parents of all the children involved. They are reminded what the school expects in terms of dignity and respect and behaviour from pupils.

Clear boundaries are set for pupils who are found to bully other pupils, and support is given to those affected by bullying. The school then introduces new plans to eliminate bullying at the school. It focuses on years four, five and six because it knows this is where they have the biggest problem. It reviews the school’s anti-bullying strategy and policy. As a result, they have fewer incidents of homophobic bullying.

This example shows it is important to:

  • have sufficient information when making decisions or taking actions
  • engage staff where possible when making decisions so that they pass on any relevant information
  • work with parents to help promote understanding and tackle prejudice in school.

Having effective partnerships to foster good relations

It helps to have good partnerships and initiatives with:

  • your local authority
  • other schools
  • parents, guardians and carers
  • members of local communities.

Initiatives can include holding discussions with these groups on how to improve education for all pupils and to foster good relations across all protected characteristics.

An inner-city academy has a lot of pupils from a range of different ethnic backgrounds. It wants to reduce and eliminate religious tensions, which are fuelled by tensions in the wider community. To do this the school works in partnership with pupils, parents, community leaders and other local schools.

Holding discussions with these groups helps the school to introduce a range of actions to promote tolerance and respect for different beliefs, including:

  • organising assemblies about good relations
  • twinning with other schools internationally so pupils can meet and exchange experiences with children from different backgrounds
  • strengthening behaviour and anti-bullying policies to reduce tensions between different groups of pupils
  • working on aspects of the curriculum that promote tolerance and friendship and share understanding of a range of religions or cultures.

Collecting and using information or data

By collecting and analysing relevant information, schools can identify priorities for the partnerships they work in, so they can pool resources and develop cost-effective solutions.

A secondary school uses individual attainment data and observations of lessons to help it understand the issues affecting ethnic minority pupils. This evidence helps staff to identify what is preventing ethnic minority pupils from participating in extracurricular activities and interacting with pupils outside of their own ethnic group.

The school now has an evidence base. It uses this combined with experiences shared at head teacher meetings with other local schools. As a result, the schools decide to share their resources to create new English language support for local pupils who do not speak English as a first language.

As a consequence, attendance rates and attainment for these pupils improve markedly. It also helps them to integrate with the school community both in and out of lessons.

Publishing equality information

Schools should publish information that demonstrates how they have met the PSED every year by 30 March. Publishing non-confidential equality-related data, evidence and information about a school and its pupils will help governors, academy trustees and parents to understand why the school is making particular decisions.

What information should schools collect?

This information may include:

  • school performance data
  • anti-bullying policies
  • a school development plan and equality milestones
  • curriculum materials
  • governing body minutes
  • equality training materials
  • parent and pupil surveys.

The PSED does not require schools to routinely collect more information than they do already. In most instances, schools will already have sufficient information, either in the data that they routinely collect, through individual profiling or in the records that classroom teachers keep.

Where there are gaps, schools may decide to fill them by getting the views of parents and pupils with particular protected characteristics. The school leader should decide if the school has enough information about pupils with different protected characteristics to enable it to meet the PSED.

In governors’ or trustees’ meetings, when new policies are being approved, it is a good idea to record discussions that arise about equality issues, showing what evidence was used. This will help make it clear how the PSED has been met.

Schools with 150 or more staff are expected to publish information to demonstrate how they have met the equality duty in relation to staff as well as pupil-related data.

You will find more information on employment in our essential guide to the PSED.

Our technical guidance on the PSED in England and chapter 5 of the Department for Education’s Guidance on the Equality Act 2010 contain further information and many useful and practical suggestions about what schools may publish.

A school routinely collects information about which pupils with different protected characteristics are subject to restraint on the school’s premises. This helps the school to monitor and understand how using restraint affects those involved. By doing this the school has met the first two aims of the general equality duty: to eliminate unlawful discrimination and advance equality of opportunity for all pupils.

Based on the data collected, the school found that disabled pupils with learning disabilities and autism were more likely than their non-disabled classmates to be isolated and physically restrained. This prompted the school to look more deeply into the causes of this. It identified various triggers during the school day, such as noisy corridors during lesson changeovers, which were often causing challenging behaviours. The school also discovered that some pupils with learning disabilities and autism were finding it difficult to adapt to school routines.

The school took action to reduce and remove these triggers. It reduced stress during changeovers by altering the timetable and introduced a buddy system to support pupils struggling to adapt to school routines. The school also introduced reasonable adjustments for pupils, based on their needs, and PSED training for school staff.

As a result, the disproportionate use of restraint on pupils with learning disabilities and autism was reduced over time.

Publishing equality objectives

To comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), schools must publish at least one equality objective. This makes their priorities for equality available to the public.

The objectives should be:

  • clearly defined
  • specific and measurable
  • agreed with the governing body or academy trust board and
  • reviewed and published at least every four years (this is a legal requirement)

The approach should be proportionate: larger schools are likely to have more objectives than smaller ones. We recommend that schools

  • publish more than one objective at least every four years
  • include their objectives in their school’s improvement and development plans.

As far as possible, the objectives should align with the most significant equality challenges facing the school.

Showing whether you have achieved your objective

Schools should be able to measure how successful they have been in achieving the objective. For example, if the objective was to improve low levels of attainment in mathematics for girls, or reduce the number of homophobic incidents, how will your school know it has succeeded?

We recommend asking pupils about their attitudes to, or experiences of, their school. This may reveal problems that lead to new policies. Following the creation of any new policies, schools can ask the questions again to see if pupils' attitudes or experiences have changed. This could help with increasing understanding between faith groups, for example.

A school collects evidence that identifies a number of equality issues. It needs to prioritise the issues that are the most significant and prepare and publish equality objectives.

To do this, it shares a ‘shortlist’ with its board of governors, school council and parent and teacher associations (PTA). By publishing the feedback it receives from this exercise, the school can help the public to understand why they prioritised one equality issue over another. This should help the school explain its choice of equality objectives

The PSED will help to focus attention on performance gaps between groups of pupils, for example:

  • girls and boys
  • pupils from different ethnic groups
  • disabled and non-disabled pupils

An inner city academy needs to decide what action to take under the PSED. It analyses its data on attainment. It finds particularly concerning data showing that Gypsy and Roma pupils at Key Stage 4 are underachieving compared to other pupils. The school’s data also reveals that this is leading to fewer Gypsy and Roma pupils progressing to higher education.

The academy has a relatively high number of Gypsy and Roma pupils so it decides this is a priority issue. It decides to set an objective under the PSED to tackle the underachievement of Gypsy and Roma pupils.

To achieve this, it plans to organise a range of activities including:

  • study skills support
  • mentoring
  • additional classes
  • higher education visits

As part of its improvement plan, the school will continue to monitor the achievement levels of Gypsy and Roma pupils and where the pupils go after they finish school. The school is able to report a positive impact of its targeted activities.

This example shows that decision-makers will have to balance competing priorities and use their discretion when setting their equality objectives. It also illustrates the importance of having good evidence in the early stages of decision-making. In this case, good evidence supports the school’s decision to focus on this group of pupils. It shows that it is reasonable to set an equality objective focused on this group attainment.

Last updated: 15 Nov 2022