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Do your duty by the disabled

All maintained primary schools, primary and secondary special schools and pupil referral units in England must have their disability equality scheme in place by December 3. Secondary schools in England have already produced theirs (in 2006) and so too have all schools in Wales (April 2007).

All the schemes must be implemented within three years and must be reviewed every three years after that.

The purpose of the scheme is to demonstrate how the school will meet a new disability equality duty - the DED or "the general duty". The duty requires all maintained schools to: promote equality of opportunity; eliminate unlawful discrimination; eliminate disability related harassment; promote positive attitudes towards disabled people; encourage disabled people to participate in public life; and to take steps to take into account people's disabilities, even where that involves more favourable treatment.

You should now have a DED group, involving staff, governors, disabled pupils and adults, who will set up the scheme and prioritise the actions you want to take and the outcomes you want to see at the end of three years.

If you fail to meet the duty, action can be taken against the school. The new Commissioner for Equality and Human Rights, or any individual who thinks that the school is failing in its general duty, can ask a court to review the actions or inactions of the school.

The commissioner can also issue a compliance notice to any school that has not met its specific duties.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced a code of practice for schools, as well as guidance on other issues such as involvement and gathering evidence.

Chris Lowe, Former headteacher and legal specialist.

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