Your child’s rights

Your child’s rights

Children and young people have many rights under Scottish and UK law. This section covers the key rights of school-age children and young people with additional support needs whose education is provided or funded by a local authority.

If you have arranged for your child to attend an independent school, or to be educated at home, their rights will be different. Find out more in our factsheets on Independent schools and additional support for learning and Home education and additional support for learning.

General rights

All children in Scotland have a right to be provided with a school education from age 5 until they turn 16. School education must aim to develop your child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.

If your child needs extra or different help from other children their age to fully benefit from their education, they have a right to receive additional support with their learning.

Your child also has the right under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Scots law to have their views considered in decisions that significantly affect them.

UNCRC incorporation in Scotland

In 2021 decision makers in the Scottish Parliament voted to put the children’s rights outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law. This process is referred to as ‘UNCRC incorporation’.

After some delays, the Scottish Parliament’s UNCRC incorporation bill has been granted ‘Royal Assent’ (this is when the King formally agrees to make a bill the law).

In January 2024 the bill became the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act 2024. This is the next step towards the UNCRC becoming law in Scotland.

By putting the UNCRC into our law, it will mean that organisations and decision makers have a legal responsibility to comply with the children’s rights outlined in the UNCRC.

Children and young people will also have more power to take action if their rights aren’t respected.

If you and your child would like to find out more, you can watch the animation below:

Equality rights

Equality law (the Equality Act 2010) sets out a list of characteristics that have special protection from discrimination, harassment, and victimisation. It is against the law to discriminate against pupils because of the following ‘protected characteristics’:

  • disability
  • gender reassignment (no changes, medical treatment or assessment need to have taken place for a transgender pupil to be included in this category)
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race (skin colour, ethnic origin, cultural background, or nationality)
  • religion and belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Discrimination can mean treating a pupil less favourably because of one of these characteristics. It can also mean where a school applies a policy or practice in the same way for everyone, but it puts pupils with a particular characteristic at a disadvantage.

Disabled children and young people have some extra protections under equality law – see the next section for more on this.

As well as avoiding discrimination, equality law also says that local authorities and schools must actively promote and advance equality of opportunity and good relations between people who share a protected characteristic, and those who don’t. Children and young people with protected characteristics may or may not also have additional support needs.

  • Inclusion, equality and wellbeing

    Factsheet explaining what local authorities, schools and nurseries should do to make sure all pupils are included, treated fairly, and have their wellbeing supported and protected.

My child is disabled

Disabled pupils have some extra protection under equality law. The legal definition of disability is a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Your child doesn’t need a formal diagnosis to be considered disabled – it’s about the effect their needs have on their daily life.

As well as the duties we mentioned above not to discriminate, schools and local authorities also have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid putting disabled pupils at a disadvantage.

Reasonable adjustments can include changes to the way things are usually done, or can be things like providing aids or services that help disabled pupils be fully involved in school life. Some examples might be being flexible about a school uniform policy if an item of clothing is causing a disabled pupil discomfort, or providing adapted equipment or software for a pupil to use.

When deciding whether something is ‘reasonable’ in a particular situation, schools should consider things like how much it would benefit your child, what the cost would be, and how practical it is.

Changes to the physical accessibility of the school environment for individual pupils aren’t covered by this law. Instead, local authorities have a duty to plan to improve disabled access in general across all their schools by having an Accessibility Strategy that’s updated every three years.

  • Disabled pupils and the law

    Factsheet explaining the main laws that apply to support and adaptations for disabled pupils at school and nursery.

My child is aged 12-15

Children aged 12-15 have specific rights to be involved in decisions and take action about the support they get. This includes many of the same rights that you have as a parent. For example, they can ask for assessments of their needs, and to have a supporter or advocate attend meetings with them.

There is support available for your child to use these rights from a service called My Rights, My Say. This includes:

  • advocacy to help them speak to their school or local authority about the support they need
  • support to help gather their views from someone independent
  • legal representation for the Additional Support Needs Tribunal.
  • Rights of children aged 12-15

    Factsheet explaining the specific rights of children aged 12-15 with additional support needs to be involved in decisions about their education, and how they can use these rights.

My child is care experienced

A child or young person is care experienced if they have been, or are currently, in care or from a looked after background at any stage in their life. This includes children and young people who have experienced living in residential care, foster care, kinship care, or at home with a supervision order. Adopted children who were previously looked after are also care experienced.

Being a ‘looked after child’ means that the local authority is currently legally responsible for their care and wellbeing. If your child is currently ‘looked after’ by a local authority, they are automatically assumed to have additional support needs, unless they are assessed as not needing extra help to learn. The local authority must also decide whether they need a co-ordinated support plan (CSP).

Many care experienced children and young people have additional support needs related to their lived experiences. The school and local authority should always take account of your child’s individual needs and circumstances when making decisions about their education and support.

It’s also important to know that in education law, the definition of ‘parent’ includes anyone who cares for the child, so that includes kinship and foster carers.

My child has healthcare needs

If your child needs support to manage a health condition at school, they have a right to receive this. Your local authority and NHS board have joint responsibility for making sure that children’s healthcare needs are met at school. Day-to-day responsibility will usually lie with the school, and it can be good to ask for the school’s policy on meeting healthcare needs. They’ll need to make sure that any staff supporting your child have the information (and training) that’s required to keep your child safe and healthy.

Your child might benefit from having a healthcare plan – this would set out things like details of any medication they take, what should happen in an emergency, details of any procedures staff need to help with, and contacts of any relevant health professionals. You and your child should be involved in setting up the plan.

  • Supporting pupils with healthcare needs

    This factsheet explains how nurseries, schools, local authorities and NHS boards should work together to support pupils with healthcare conditions.

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