Dilemma

6th November 2009 at 00:00
We are recruiting new staff. If a candidate is disabled, what should we take into consideration at interview stage and what adjustments should we have in place?

A prospective employer of a disabled teacher has a duty to establish that the would-be employee has the health and physical capacity to teach and will not put children or young people at risk of harm.

In most cases you will find that there won't be a problem as long as reasonable adjustments are made. Under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (DDA) you are legally obliged to make those adjustments, but there is funding available from the Government's Access to Work scheme.

The school's medical adviser can judge whether someone is fit to teach. They must include consideration of any "relevant activity" associated with teaching.

Relevant activities are defined by the Department for Children, Schools and Families as planning and preparing lessons and courses for children, delivering lessons, assessing and reporting on development, progress and attainment, supporting or assisting a teacher, supervising, assisting and supporting a child, carrying out an administrative or organisational activity that supports the provision of education and an activity that is ancillary to the provision of education.

The medical adviser can request medical records from the previous employer (if the applicant has taught recently) or from the training provider (if they are newly qualified). If they want additional information, they must discuss it with the applicant before seeking it.

After referring to the appropriate medical records, the medical adviser will decide whether or not the person is in good health and free from conditions that might be likely to interfere with standards of teaching. They will also decide if they are generally in good health but suffering from conditions that are likely to interfere to some extent with their teaching in all subjects, or certain specified subjects, although these conditions are not serious enough to make the candidate unfit for the teaching profession. This includes people whose disability could require employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable them to provide effective and efficient teaching.

Under the DDA, employers are expected to make any reasonable adjustments that may enable an employee to work. The DirectGov website (www.direct.gov.uk) suggests that reasonable adjustments could constitute making changes to buildings, being flexible about hours, including allowing the employee to be away from work for assessment, treatment or rehabilitation, and providing modified equipment or a reader or interpreter.

Schools and teachers may be able to use Access to Work funding to help with these adjustments. It may be possible to put the funding towards equipment, adaptations to the premises or even a support worker. It can also be used for travel costs if the employee cannot use public transport.

The medical adviser will provide a recommendation to the employer with a full explanation. The final decision rests with the employer, but they must take into account their obligation under the DDA to make reasonable adjustments.

Philippa Walker is specialist researcher on staffing for The Key, an independent service that supports school leaders on all aspects of leadership and management. www.usethekey.org.uk.

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