Northern Ireland primary school accused of discrimination

by Mark Benson on September 12, 2012

Northern Ireland primary school accused of discrimination

Bloomfield primary school in Bangor is today at the centre of a bitter row after allegedly agreeing to take a new student by the name of Josh Todd, who has type I diabetes, only to change their mind at a later date. There have been accusations and counteraccusations flying over this particular issue although it has brought to the attention of the masses a subject of potential discrimination against those suffering from diabetes.

Background to the case

Four-year-old Josh Todd was put forward for Bloomfield primary school in Bangor and the school was made fully aware of his insulin-dependent condition. No objections or problems were discussed and the parents of the young boy believed that they had secured a position at the school. However, an 11th hour U-turn by the school left the youngster without a school to attend and the case has now become a political hot potato.

The young boy requires four injections per day, one of which would be in school times, and one would need to be administered with the assistance of a member of staff. The school was made well aware of the fact that Josh’s parents both work full-time and would be unable to be at the school when the injection was required. The rather bizarre position that Josh’s parents find themselves in is that legally they are obliged to ensure he has an adequate education while it seems that at this moment in time he is being prevented from taking up a position which had been agreed many months previous!

Legal obligations

There is no doubt that the laws governing education and disabilities do make it illegal to discriminate against an individual because of any underlying medical condition or similar issue. The school insisted that it did not have the provisions to cater for Josh Todd’s diabetes and therefore they believe this is a valid reason for withdrawing the offer of a place at school. Is this action against the law?

Provisions for disabilities and medical conditions

There is no doubt that over the last few years we have seen a major increase in the amount of red tape associated with education and indeed the assistance by teachers, and classroom assistants, in relation to disabled pupils and those with a medical condition. However, the law states that each and every school must have the relevant provisions in place to accommodate such individuals and if not in place this is not a legally recognised reason for withdrawing services.

The reality is that Josh Todd parents have paid their taxes, continue to pay their taxes and expect to receive an adequate service for their child in return. Is this really too much to ask?


Time and time again we have seen the issues of insurance and liability used as a way for various companies and various state-run facilities to withdraw services across-the-board. The “where there is blame there is a claim” culture has certainly had a major impact but many experts believe that provisions for areas such as education have been overdone. Indeed the situation with regards to Josh Todd has been somewhat complicated by the fact that a neighbouring school was willing and able to take on the child and he is set to start his new school very soon.

It seems a school just a few miles away was willing and able to introduce training for staff in this particular area, the injection of insulin for diabetics, and therefore feels more than able to fulfil its legal obligations in this instance. While there is no doubt we need to find a balance between provisions in place, staff training and the risks associated with various medical conditions such as diabetes type I, is it really fair to exclude youngsters from the education system because of this?

There is no doubt that legal obligations and legal liabilities are playing havoc with many areas of the education system and indeed the so-called blame culture is causing major problems. There were unsubstantiated rumours that the school which originally withdrew the offer to Josh Todd had indeed taken advice from education unions who were uncomfortable with the situation whereby their members would be assisting with insulin injections. It would be a surprise if these rumours were actually correct because this is not the first time that such instances have occurred and in the vast majority of cases a way has been found for the child in question to attend school safety.

Political fallout

While there are rumours and intense speculation regarding the exact details of Josh Todd’s case the underlying reality is that he appears to have been refused a position at his local school because of a medical condition. The government and various politicians have been very quick in coming forward to confirm that staff trained to deal with such instances, such as insulin injections, would be legally indemnified by their employers providing certain conditions applied. This would therefore seem to take away much of the concern and the potential “blame game” of which many teachers are acutely aware of?

There are laws in place to protect those seen as vulnerable or requiring special services and this is an instance where the law seems to be very much black-and-white. Schools should not be allowed to discriminate against those with a specific condition or specific disability and if applicants are successful and gain entry to the school then adequate provisions and staff training must be in place.


While this case has attracted the attention of the worldwide press there is no doubt that similar instances have and do occur on a regular basis. There are a number of factors to take into account including the severity of the condition, staff training, liability obligations as well as the disability act which should protect those seen as vulnerable from being excluded from particular services. Perhaps too much emphasis is being placed on the individual school in question when we should now be looking towards the funding available for training staff in similar positions who may be needed to assist with medical treatment?

If this issue does prompt a wider debate on the treatment of diabetics in various areas of everyday life then it will certainly be welcomed by many.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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