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IRELAND - Primary school equality review

August 8th 2014


The project is to develop a method for undertaking an equality review in a primary school to enable an equality action plan for a school to be prepared. An equality review is an audit of the level of equality that exists in an organisation, business, etc. An equality action plan is a programme of actions to be undertaken in an organisation to further the promotion of equality.

Education has been identified as a priority area for the Equality Authority. The Irish equality legislation prohibits discrimination in the provision of education, and the Equality Authority has seen a high level of legal complaints concerning schools.

The project has two phases:

  • The first phase was development of a draft model or resource, under the advice of the key partners in the primary education sector. The model and resource were developed by a team consisting of four primary teachers with expertise in aspects of equality (gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, membership of the Traveller community) and with experience in a range of primary schools and roles in primary schools (classroom teacher, principal, former inspector, language support co-ordinator, etc.).
  • The second phase is testing or piloting the draft model in a small sample of schools and revising the model in light of that learning.

Duty bearers targeted, and their specific obligations (if any)

The primary duty bearer in this piece of work is primary schools. According to the equality legislation, schools must not discriminate in

  • the admission or terms or conditions of admission of a pupil,
  • the access of a pupil to any course, facility or benefit provided by the school,
  • any other term or condition of participation in the school, or
  • the expulsion of a student or the application of any sanction against a student.

The draft model and resource goes beyond these obligations in two ways. First, it seeks to examine how well the school incorporates a focus on equality in its work. Second, in addition the four areas listed above, it examines equality in

  1. school policies,
  2. school decision-making procedures,
  3. the content of the curriculum,
  4. the extra-curricular activities, and
  5. educational attainment.

A potential secondary duty bearer for this project in longer term is the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills. The Equality Authority hopes that implementing the model of undertaking an equality review in a primary school can provide an evidence base for the Inspectorate to include elements of it in their systems and standards for school evaluation.

Main objective of the project

The main objective is to develop and test a model that can be applied in the future.


This project would be classified as “Engagement and provision of practical support”.

This was chosen because the purpose is to develop a model and resource that schools can engage with. In particular, it seeks to present framework for examining equality in a school that is based on how schools operate, using the Irish legal and policy framework and the curriculum for Irish primary schools, with the equality situation across those areas assessed and needs identified.

Key achievements

The key achievement is the development of a model of undertaking an equality review that is designed specifically for Irish primary schools. It takes the legal and administrative framework and the curriculum that Irish primary schools use and identifies how equality fits within those components.

Key challenges

One key challenge appears to be the understanding of equality terms and concepts. The information gathered from the piloting of the draft model and resource suggests that, for example, differences between “non-discrimination” and “equality” are not always understood, and the meaning of some of the discriminatory grounds in the Irish equality legislation was not always correctly understood. This becomes a particular challenge in measuring the situation, because people are not able or not willing to answer questions during the process without being given information on the meaning of those questions, but the act of providing that information changes the situation.