Access for everybody

6th July 2001 at 01:00
Philippa Stobbs urges all schools to respond to the draft code on discrimination

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has issued a draft code of practice for consultation. This is not the long-awaited new SEN Code of Practice which will be submitted to both Houses of Parliament this month for approval. The DRC Code of Practice will explain to schools the new disability discrimination duties towards disabled children and young people under the SEN and Disability Act 2001. A separate draft code will be issued at the same time to explain the new duties on further and higher education and the youth service towards disabled people.

The new SEN duties in the SEN and Disability Act and the new SEN Code of Practice will come into effect this September. The disability discrimination duties on schools come into effect in September 2002.

When the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995 education was exempted from its provisions, though other providers of goods and services have been covered since 1996. In 1997 the new government sought the advice of the Disability Rights Task Force (DRTF) on how disability discrimination duties should be extended to cover education. The arrangements in the SEN and Disability Act are shaped very much by the report of the DRTF and their determination to dovetail new arrangements with existing ones for children with SEN.

The new duties focus quite specifically on protecting pupils and potential pupils from discrimination on the grounds of disability. The duties assume that special educational provision for disabled children and young people is made through the special educational needs route, and that physical access needs will be met through a longer-term and more strategic planning duty which will also come into effect in September 2002. There are two main duties:

* not to treat disabled pupils less favourably for a reason that relates to their disability * to make reasonable adjustments in order to ensure that disabled pupils are not at a substantial disadvantage.

The new duties cover every aspect of the life of the school: from teaching and learning to after-school clubs; from school organisation to what happens in the dinner queue; from timetabling to the use of classroom support; from homework to anti-bullying policies; from admissions to exclusions.

If parents think their child has been discriminated against they can make a claim of disability discrimination on behalf of their disabled child.

A claim is made to the SEN and Disability Tribunal. This is the renamed SEN Tribunal with an extended remit. A claim of discrimination is made against the "responsible body" for the school. In most circumstances this is the governing body of the school, though in some circumstances it is the local education authority. The DRC will make available conciliation arrangements to seek to resolve issues before they reach the Tribunal.

Because equal opportunities legislation remains a Westminster responsibility the new duties apply throughout England, Wales and Scotland. They apply to all schools, whether independent or maintained, mainstream or special, nursery, primary or secondary, community, voluntary, foundation or a city academy. If it is a school it is covered.

The duties are explained in the DRC Code of Practice. The draft code is now available and the consultation will run until October 31.

The draft code of practice will only be circulated to a small percentage of schools, but anyone who would like their own copy can get one directly from the Disability Rights Commission, tel: 08457 622 633.

I would encourage every school to get hold of a copy, read it and, if possible, respond. It is not as long as the SEN code and some people have even said that it is surprisingly readable.

Philippa Stobbs is principal officer at the Council for Disabled Children and is one of the drafters involved in the development of the DRC Code of Practice

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