As a parent and a governor, I have found that schools' knowledge of the legal duties to protect pupils identified as having special educational needs and disabilities is pretty patchy, especially beyond the SEN legal framework of the Chidlren and Families Act.
For example, how many headteachers, let alone classroom teachers, know that a “special educational need” such as autism may fall within the definition of “a disability” under the Equality Act 2010?
This offers those students legal protection against discrimination, yet it is a common problem that some schools refuse to adjust their practices to meet the needs of a disabled child; refusing to make reasonable adjustments to their uniform policy to accommodate the needs of an autistic child who has sensory processing difficulties is just one example of a common issue.
Here are several more examples of how schools are failing to meet their legal requirements:
Public sector equality duty
The Equality Act compels schools to consider (to pay “due regard to”) the need to eliminate discrimination, to advance equality of opportunity and to foster good relations between disabled and non-disabled pupils. Schools must do this whenever they carry out their functions. For example, whenever a governing body makes decisions or drafts school policies, it must consider the impact on disabled pupils. Are all your governors out there doing this?
Schools must publish equality objectives setting out how they intend to eliminate discrimination and publish annual information demonstrating what they have done to promote equality. Have you seen your school’s equality objectives? Are you publishing information annually?
Schools must also create and publish an “accessibility plan” setting out how they will increase disabled pupils’ access to the curriculum and school environment. For example, how they will increase disabled children’s participation in school clubs. How old is your accessibility plan? Do you even have one?
Finally, the Children and Families Act 2014 requires school governing bodies to produce a policy showing how they will put support in place for pupils with medical conditions, such as asthma, autism and diabetes. This is usually by way of a plan. Does your school have a medical needs policy? Do your pupils have plans where they are required?
Irrespective of Ofsted’s disengagement on these issues (more on this to come in a future post), ensuring that these laws are complied with is important not just because they’re the law but also because these duties are designed to challenge environments that may be intentionally or unintentionally discriminatory, and to protect disabled children’s rights. What school would not want to ensure they are protecting children's legal rights?
Dr Debbie Sayers runs the legal consultancy interalia.org.uk and is a founder and executive committee member of the Educational Rights Alliance. She tweets at @ERA_tweet
Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook