Push open all doors to learning

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Is your school accessible to pupils with disabilities? David Sassoon offers a timely reminder of your duties

DID you miss the deadline? By April 30, governors should have decided how they are to help improve the education offered to disabled pupils.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Senda) 2001 extended the duties of employers set out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to schools.

Every school must now have an accessibility plan, compatible with their education authority's strategy. Both documents should aim to improve the inclusion of disabled pupils in schools and ensure they are not discriminated against in their education.

Sadly, however, some local education authorities will not have completed their strategy in time for schools to develop their plans, leaving them high and dry.

No doubt the Office for Standards in Education will report on rogue schools and authorities that do not have these policies in place. However, it will be bodies such as the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (Sendist) and the courts - to which disappointed parents will have recourse - that will ensure that schools and authorities come into line with the legislation.

Senda has strengthened the rights of pupils with special educational needs and others with disabilities to be educated in mainstream schools in an atmosphere that is devoid of unfair discrimination.

There are two key duties placed on governing bodies:

* Not to discriminate unfairly against disabled pupils (either current or prospective) and to take reasonable steps to include such pupils fully in the life of the school; and * To plan to increase accessibility for disabled pupils in line with the LEA's strategic planning.

Unfair discrimination in relation to pupils with disabilities covers admissions, the education and associated services pupils receive, and exclusions.

The planning duty requires schools to increase the extent to which disabled pupils can participate in the school curriculum, and to improve the physical environment so that pupils who are disabled can take advantage of the education and other services provided by the school.

Schools should also be improving the information provided to disabled pupils, in formats which take account of the views expressed by pupils and their parents. That means your school should have audited disabled pupils' needs, informed them of LEA policies and consulted pupils and their parents on the school's initial proposals.

The final plan should cover:

* The arrangements for all pupils (including the disabled), to access the curriculum;

* How any gaps in these arrangements will be plugged (for example, staff may need training to adapt the curriculum);

* The physical features of the school which both help and hinder those with disabilities to access the educational opportunities provided, and how the school plans to improve on them in the next three to five years (for example, installing ramps and toilet facilities as part of routine building works);

* How pupils and parents have been consulted and will be kept informed.

Another moot point is the administration of medicines. While teachers are not legally obliged to give medication, some pupils would be put at a disadvantage if schools did not provide this facility.

In 2002, Preston County Court awarded pound;3,000 to a pupil who was banned from a school visit because he had diabetes. Supporting children's medical needs may warrant an annex in the accessibility plan.

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