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DISABLED pupils are exposed to discrimination because equality laws allow schools to exclude children for “challenging behaviour,” a judge ruled yesterday.
Judge Alison Rowley, hearing the case of a 13-year-old boy with autism who was excluded from school for aggressive conduct, said it was “repugnant” to consider behaviour as “criminal or anti-social” when it was a direct result of a child’s condition and “not a choice.”
Ms Rowley said a regulation under the Equality Act 2010 that permits schools to exclude pupils for such behaviour without justification was unlawful and incompatible with human rights legislation.
She said that the rule came “nowhere near striking a fair balance” between the “fundamental rights” of such children and the interests of the wider community.
The judge’s decision should ensure that all disabled children enjoy the same safeguards, protections and rights under the law, regardless of whether their disability gives rise to challenging behaviour.
Equality and Human Rights Commission executive director Melanie Field applauded the judgement.
“This is a positive step towards ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential through education and increasing the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream education,” she said.
National Autistic Society spokesperson Jane Harris called the ruling “a landmark verdict which could transform the prospects of future generations of children on the autism spectrum by helping them get the education they deserve.
“The government should recognise this decision and act immediately to make sure that autistic children are no longer unfairly excluded from school.”
A Department for Education spokesman said it would be “carefully considering” the judgement and its implications before deciding on the next steps.
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