Q I am the governor of a small primary school. Our local education authority has recently provided us with information about the Disability Discrimination Act . At our recent meeting, we were alarmed to note that, while we have an obligation not to discriminate against disabled children, a course with which we would wholeheartedly agree, we also have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments. We are concerned that this is rather an open-ended obligation and, while we wish to comply with the law, we are concerned that we may have to spend an awful lot of time thinking about possible changes to every part of the school.
Can you help?
A The amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act brought about by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, which requires schools not to discriminate, includes an obligation to make reasonable adjustments.
This is set out as an anticipatory duty, which means that responsible bodies of schools (in most cases, governing bodies) should contemplate, in advance, adjustments that might be made, as well as responding to individual requests from disabled pupils and their families.
The obligation to make reasonable adjustments is limited so that there is no obligation to change the physical structure of premises, nor to provide additional staff or equipment. However, there is also a duty to prepare, maintain and review what are known as accessibility plans, which establish what the school will do in order to promote access and inclusion to the curriculum and in other areas.
Many adjustments that could be required are relatively straightforward and of little or no cost. However, some may require a degree of forethought - such as timetabling of classes to ensure that students who are wheelchair users are not in rooms in inaccessible parts of the building.
Helpful guidance is available from the Code of Practice for Schools of the Disability Rights Commission. Its website is at www.drc-gb.org
David Ruebain is a partner specialising in education and disability discrimination at the law firm Levenes. www.levenes.co.uk
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