Last reviewed 7 February 2014

Ofsted updated its guidance for use in inspections of academies and maintained schools from September 2013 (“Inspecting Equalities: Briefing for Section 5 Inspection”, reference: 090197).

It is intended to help inspectors judge the impact of a school’s work in advancing equality of opportunity, fostering good relations and tackling discrimination.

These briefing papers increase the importance inspectors attach to whether a school is promoting equality, and they also give schools guidance for their own self-evaluation. Tony Powell reports.


The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) replaced and unified all existing equality legislation. It aims to ensure that people have equality of opportunity in accessing and experiencing public services. The Act provides a single, consolidated source of discrimination law, covering all types of discrimination that are unlawful, and it extends the protection from discrimination in certain areas.

Since the Equality Act 2010 was largely one of consolidation, schools that were meeting the requirements of earlier legislation will be compliant. The Act introduced a single public sector equality duty (PSED) (sometimes also referred to as the “general duty”) that applies to public bodies, including maintained schools and academies.

The PSED means that, in carrying out their functions, public bodies are required to have due regard for the need to:

  • eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act

  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it

  • foster good relations across all characteristics between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it.

What “due regard” means in practice has been defined in case law as giving relevant and proportionate consideration to the duty. Schools also have two specific duties.

  1. Publish information that shows how they meet the PSED.

  2. Publish at least one equality objective.

Evaluating impact — an overview

Schools will be pleased to know that inspectors do not arrive armed with copies of the Act. The judgment of the extent to which the school meets the general and specific duties of the Act is carried out within the inspection of the key areas and the school’s overall effectiveness.

Inspectors will evaluate whether all pupils work in an ethos and atmosphere of dignity and fairness. Inspectors will expect schools to:

  • secure and maintain excellent teaching, learning and assessment for all pupils

  • “narrow the gaps” in achievement between different groups and national standards

  • ensure pupils are free from bullying, including all types of prejudice-based bullying

  • deal with unacceptable behaviour and disruptions to learning

  • build cohesive school communities where all pupils can thrive.

Although it is not a key area, inspectors are required to evaluate spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, and this is an important aspect when judging how schools promote equality, by ensuring that all pupils can access curriculum experiences, including extra-curricular activities. Inspectors will expect schools to be proactive in these areas and gather evidence for their own self-evaluation. This evidence should be primarily focused on impact linked to provision, for example, showing how gaps in achievement are being narrowed.

Evaluating impact — specific areas

Pupils’ achievement

In order to ensure that all pupils achieve their potential, schools should analyse progress and attainment data for all groups of pupils and use this information to tailor provision. In particular, inspectors may look for:

  • data on pupils broken down by types of impairment and special educational need

  • use of entry and transition information to shape provision to meet the diverse needs of pupils

  • data on inequalities of outcome and participation connected with ethnicity, gender and disability, and with proficiency in literacy and numeracy

  • data on inequalities of outcome and participation when setting objectives for achievable and measurable improvements

  • clear procedures for supporting the educational achievement of pregnant pupils and young parents.


As well as teaching and learning strategies, inspectors will look at special provision for certain groups. They will expect the curriculum to cover equalities issues, particularly with regard to tackling prejudice, promoting community cohesion and understanding diversity. In the classroom they will evaluate practical issues such as:

  • focused attention being paid to the needs of specific groups of pupils, for example, those who are learning English as an additional language, or disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs

  • activities being available across the curriculum that promote all pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, with “reasonable adjustments” made where needed

  • seating and grouping arrangements that help to foster good relations and respect between different groups of pupils

  • ensuring that teaching and curriculum materials, in all subjects, have positive images of disabled people, gay and lesbian people, both women and men in non-stereotypical gender roles, and of people from a wide range of ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.

Behaviour and safety

In this regard, inspectors will look for:

  • clear procedures for dealing with prejudice-related bullying and incidents, and appropriate staff training that equips staff to identify and deal with this effectively

  • questionnaires and focused discussion groups showing that all pupils feel safe from all kinds of bullying, harassment and oppressive behaviour

  • pupils being confident that staff will address all issues of discrimination and prejudice, including the use of derogatory language.

The school should have data on behaviour, attendance, and absence rates and rewards, and sanctions broken down for all sizeable groups around ethnicity, special needs and disability, gender, and free school meals.

Leadership and management

The school should demonstrate positive action of how it is advancing equality and tackling discrimination, for example, a statement of overarching policy, the school improvement plan, self-evaluation documents, the prospectus, bulletins and newsletters, and letters to parents and carers. In particular, inspectors will look for:

  • minutes of a range of meetings, including governors, staff, school leadership team and the school council

  • Equality Impact Assessments on new policies and initiatives in relation to current and prospective pupils, staff and parents

  • the Continuing Professional Development programme being inclusive of all staff and covering equality issues

  • good equal opportunities practice in the recruitment and promotion of staff

  • evidence of consulting and involving parents and carers

  • evidence from pupils

  • evidence from parental questionnaires

  • a clear leadership and management structure showing responsibility for equality

  • coverage in the curriculum of equalities issues

  • the involvement of a governing body in promoting equality of opportunity and evaluating outcomes

  • evidence from parents and other stakeholders on the effectiveness of the school’s procedures for consulting and involving parents, and for engaging with local groups and organisations — these will have regard for the concerns and requirements of the Equality Act 2010

  • evidence from pupils showing how the school makes improvements based on how pupils individually and collectively think and feel about the school

  • evidence from parental questionnaires revealing no prejudice or discrimination of a group or individual.

Making reasonable adjustments

A minor change for schools is that a failure to make a reasonable adjustment cannot now be justified. This change should not have any practical effect since, if an adjustment is reasonable, then it should be made, and there can be no justification for why it is not made. Schools will not be expected to make adjustments that are not reasonable. The Act does not set out what would be a reasonable adjustment; that is for schools to determine.