Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education

supporting inclusion, challenging exclusion

inclusive education and international human rights instruments

Children’s right to inclusive education is widely recognised in international human rights law. All relevant international human rights instruments recognise the right to education without discrimination on any grounds, including gender, disability, ethnic background, and other aspects of identity.

The most widely ratified human rights instrument worldwide is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is increasingly taken as setting the standards for all issues relating to children. The most recently adopted instrument is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which explicitly states that education for disabled children should be inclusive. These and other key treaties supporting children’s right to inclusive education are binding on the states which have ratified them.

Key conventions

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Implementation of key conventions

Implementation of these treaties is overseen by the treaty monitoring bodies. For example, in 2008 the Committee on the Rights of the Child examined the UK Government’s third/fourth report on its implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and made the following comment and recommendation concerning education (CRC/C/GBR/CO/4, paras. 66 and 67):

The Committee notes with appreciation the numerous efforts of the State party in the sphere of education, in order to guarantee the objectives set out in the Convention. However, it is concerned that significant inequalities persist with regard to school achievement of children living with their parents in economic hardship. Several groups of children have problems being enrolled in school or continuing or reentering education, either in regular schools or alternative educational facilities, and cannot fully enjoy their right to education, notably children with disabilities, children of Travellers, Roma children, asylum-seeking children, dropouts and non-attendees for different reasons (sickness, family obligations etc.), and teenage mothers. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned that:.

  1. participation of children in all aspects of schooling is inadequate, since children have very few consultation rights, in particular they have no right to appeal their exclusion or to appeal the decisions of a special educational needs tribunal;
  2. the right to complain regarding educational provisions is restricted to parents, which represent a problem especially for looked after children for whom local authorities have, though mostly do not use, parental authority;
  3. bullying is a serious and widespread problem, which may hinder children’s attendance at school and successful learning;
  4. the number of permanent and temporary school exclusions is still high and affects in particular children from groups which in general are low on school achievement;
  5. the problem of segregation of education is still present in Northern Ireland;
  6. despite the Committee’s previous concluding observations, academic selection at the age of 11 continues in Northern Ireland.

The Committee recommends that the State party:

  1. continue and strengthen its efforts to reduce the effects of the social background of children on their achievement in school;
  2. invest considerable additional resources in order to ensure the right of all children to a truly inclusive education which ensures the full enjoyment to children from all disadvantaged, marginalized and school-distant groups;
  3. ensure that all children out of school get alternative quality education;
  4. use the disciplinary measure of permanent or temporary exclusion as a means of last resort only, reduce the number of exclusions and get social workers and educational psychologists in school in order to help children in conflict with school;
  5. make sure that children without parental care have a representative who actively defends their best interests;
  6. intensify its efforts to tackle bullying and violence in schools, including through teaching human rights, peace and tolerance;
  7. strengthen children’s participation in all matters of school, classroom and learning which affect them;
  8. ensure that children who are able to express their views have the right to appeal against their exclusion as well as the right, in particular for those in alternative care, to appeal to special educational need tribunals
  9. take measures to address segregation of education in Northern Ireland;
  10. put an end to the two-tier culture in Northern Ireland by abolishing the 11+ transfer test and ensure that all children are included in admission arrangements in post-primary schools.

In 2009, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended to the UKE/C.12/GBR/CO/5, paras. 16 and 36):

The Committee continues to be concerned about the de facto discrimination experienced by some of the most disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, such as ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities, in the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights, especially in the fields of housing, employment, and education, despite the measures adopted by the State party to enhance its legal and institutional mechanisms aimed at combating discrimination. The Committee is also concerned that the proposed Equality Bill does not provide protection from all forms of discrimination in all areas related to the Covenant rights and will not apply to Northern Ireland (art. 2).

The Committee recommends that the State party take remedial steps to enforce existing legal prohibitions of discrimination and to enact, without delay, a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, guaranteeing protection against discrimination in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, as stipulated in article 2, paragraph 2, of the Covenant. It also recommends that the State party consider making such comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation applicable to Northern Ireland.

The Committee is concerned that significant disparities in terms of school performance and dropout rates continue to exist between pupils belonging to ethnic, religious or national minorities, in particular Roma/Gypsies, Irish Travellers, and other students, in spite of the efforts undertaken by the State party to address the social and economic inequalities existing in the field of education (arts. 13 and 2, para. 2)

The Committee recommends that the State party adopt all appropriate measures to reduce the achievement gap in terms of school performance between British pupils and pupils belonging to ethnic, religious or national minorities in the field of education, inter alia, by ensuring the adequate provision of English-language courses for those students who lack adequate language proficiency and avoiding the overrepresentation of minority students in classes for children with learning difficulties. The Committee further recommends that the State party undertake further studies on the correlation between school failure and social environment, with a view to elaborating effective strategies aimed at reducing the disproportionate dropout rates affecting minority pupils.

The UK will soon be examined again by these Committees on its implementation of the respective treaties.Further information will be posted here as soon as it becomes available.

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Other international human rights agreements

The following agreements are not legally binding but are considered to have moral force and provide practical guidance to states:

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Note: some of the documents on this page are in PDF format. In order to view a PDF you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader

Page last updated: Sunday 20 May 2018

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