Special needs pupils – what are their rights in a private school?


If you are paying to send your child to a private school, you naturally expect the best education your money can buy. That goes for pupils with special needs too – and the law is clear on what schools must do to accommodate such children.

If you are not satisfied with the support your child is receiving for his or her special needs at their private school, you may wish to launch a legal challenge.

I’ve heard about the UK Equality Act – how does that help my child with special needs?

In 2010, the UK Equality Act set out extensive provisions to safeguard against discrimination in all educational establishments, including private schools, covering pupils and students of all ages.

Prior to your child beginning their education at their private school, you as their parent or guardian should have made the school aware of your child’s special needs or disability. From that moment, the private school has an obligation under the law to make any “reasonable adjustments” within the school, ensuring that your child does not receive a substandard education because of their special needs. 

What “reasonable adjustments” is the school obliged to make?

As stipulated in the Equality Act, every UK educational institution is obliged to take any reasonable steps to “avoid substantial disadvantage” to any pupil or student with special needs or disabilities. This obligation is divided into the following three specific areas:

* Physical features

This is a reference to the physical construction of a school building, including classrooms and other physical spaces, as well as doorways and other access points. In this case, “reasonable adjustments” would include ensuring that there are ramps in place for wheelchair users and doorways are wide enough.

* Provisions, criteria or practices

This is about the procedures and policies of a private school or any other educational institution. It includes, for example, disciplinary procedures, and any student-based activities arranged as part of a course.

* Auxiliary aids

This refers to the imparting of both educational and administrative information, and it stipulates that all information must be provided for children with special needs or disabilities in a format that is readily accessible. Examples of this include reading materials for the visually impaired, e.g. in Braille and large print.

What can I do if I’m not satisfied that my child’s needs are being met?

If you are not satisfied that your child’s private school is meeting the special needs of your child, there is a procedure in place for you to follow.

* Firstly, you should make a preliminary appointment to meet with the school’s head teacher to discuss the situation.

* If the problem you perceive is not immediately addressed, you will need to make a written complaint, following the school’s internal complaints procedure.

* If you are still not satisfied, you should consider seeking legal advice to assess whether you have a claim for discrimination. If so, you can make a claim to the First Tier Tribunal, (SEND) within 6 months from the last act of discrimination.

Anita ChopraEducation law specialists Match Solicitors have a team of dedicated solicitors to help guide parents through these often very daunting legal procedures. Give us a call on 020 7353 6881 so we can help you turn things around.


Anita Chopra is a director at education law specialists Match Solicitors and is a regular media commentator on legal issues arising in education. She has a “huge breadth of experience across all kinds of education” and “has a great instinct for cases.”