Discrimination at school

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Discrimination laws for schools, universities or other training organisations aim to make sure that all students are treated the same way and given the same opportunities as other students. You don’t have to put up with discrimination at school.

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What kind of discrimination may occur in school?

A school may treat you unfairly on the basis of a ground of discrimination by:

  • Refusing to enrol you
  • Denying you something that they provide to other students
  • Expelling you or subjecting you to some other negative treatment


Not all forms of discrimination are against the law. Sometimes schools can make rules or decisions that discriminate against students.

For example, a school can refuse to enrol you if:

  • it is a single sex school and you are of the opposite sex;
  • the school is for students above a certain age and you are not above that age;  
  • the school only assists students with a certain disability and you do not have that disability; or
  • it would be unjustifiably hard for the school to provide the necessary resources or services required because of your disability. It is a case of weighing up the pros and cons. For example, if the school can prove that it cannot pay for your adjustment, it can usually claim unjustifiable hardship and refuse to enrol you.

Good to Know:

Except for race discrimination, private schools are generally exempt from discrimination laws. For example, a religious private school is allowed to exclude people on the basis that they might be homosexual.

What can I do if I have experienced discrimination?

Report the discrimination

If you have experienced discrimination, you should:

  1. Tell your school principal. You can take a friend, teacher or parent with you if you like.
  2. Keep a record of what happened, when it happened, who did it and the names of any other people involved.
  3. Ask for a copy of your school’s discrimination policy so you can make sure the school is following the policy.
  4. If you don’t think the school is following its policy, you (or your parents) can make a complaint to the school.
  5. If you’re not happy with how the school dealt with your complaint, you can take the matter further by complaining to your school’s Regional Director; Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (if it’s a public school); board of governors (if it’s a private school); or the Catholic Education Commission (if it is a Catholic school).
  6. If the issue is still not resolved you can make a complaint to either the Australian Human Rights Commission or Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (but you can only complain to one or the other). It doesn’t cost any money to make a complaint.

There are time limits associated with making a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission or Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. You should complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission within 6 months of the discrimination occurring, or to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission within 12 months of the discrimination occurring; otherwise there is a risk that the complaint won’t be investigated.

Complaints are usually resolved through ‘conciliation’, where you sit down with your school and an officer from the Commission or the Board and have a chat about what happened and what the school can do to resolve the complaint; ideally coming to an agreement.

But sometimes this process does not lead to a good outcome. You then have the option of taking the complaint to a tribunal or court. However, you should not go to court or a tribunal without getting legal advice and representation first. It is often available for free!

You may feel scared about making a complaint, but it is against the law for someone to treat you unfairly or harm you because you made a complaint against them. If that happens, they can be fined or imprisoned.

It can be difficult to make a complaint. If you need help there are services that can assist you.

Tell someone

Discrimination is unacceptable and you may want to speak to your parents or another adult that you trust. If you do not speak to someone, or report what happened, then no one will know what is going on and they can’t help you. We have provided you with a list of important contacts to call at the end of this page if you need to talk to someone else.

Free legal information, advice and referral

If you are under 25 years old (or helping someone who is under 25), you can get help here. We can give free legal advice, information and referrals to local services. 

Where to complain if school doesn’t help

State Agency Contact Details Time limit for making a complaint
Australia (all states and territories) Australian Human Rights Commission 1300 656 419
24 months
Victoria Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission 1300 292 153
12 months

Disclaimer: This is legal information not advice specific to you. If you would like specific advice about a legal question that you have you can get help here.


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