What is Disability Equality and how does the Equality Act impact on schools?
Under the Equality Act there is a requirement for public sector bodies, including schools, to promote equality for disabled people in every aspect of their work. Schools will need to take an organisational approach to formulating policy and practices, which positively promote disability. The Equality Act 2010 introduced a single Public Sector Equality Duty (sometimes also referred to as the ‘general duty’) that applies to public bodies, including maintained schools and Academies, and which extends to all protected characteristics - race, disability, sex, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment. This combined equality duty came into effect in April 2011. It has three main elements. In carrying out their functions, public bodies are required to have due regard to the need to:
- Eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act
- Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
- Foster good relations across all characteristics - between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
This duty requires schools to adopt a proactive approach, mainstreaming disability equality into all decisions and activities. The duty does not just apply to disabled pupils; it applies to any non-educational services schools provide. The duty applies also to parents, members of staff, visitors to the school, local community members and to potential pupils of the future. Schools can implement the general duty by actively reviewing all their policies, procedures and planned access improvements to remove barriers, with a view, for example, to greater recruitment and retention of disabled staff, greater participation of disabled pupils, disabled parents and community members.
What are the specific duties?
The specific duties require schools: (a) to publish information to demonstrate how they are complying with the Public Sector Equality Duty, and (b) to prepare and publish equality objectives. Schools had until 6 April 2012 to publish their initial information and their first set of objectives. They will then need to update their published information at least annually and to publish objectives at least once every four years. Further advice and guidance is available in the Local Authority's Schools' Equality Toolkit.
Schools are still required to have Accessibility Plans showing how they are planning strategically to increase access over time; the same duties as previously existed under the DDA and have been replicated in the Equality Act 2010. The plan must show how the school is:
- Increasing the extent to which disabled pupils can participate in the curriculum
- Improving the physical environment of schools to enable those with disabilities to take better advantage of education, benefits, facilities and services provided; and
- Improving the availability of accessible information to those with disabilities.
Schools will need to provide adequate resources for implementing plans and must review them regularly. An accessibility plan may be a freestanding document but may also be published as part of another document such as the School Development Plan, a Single Equality Plan. OFSTED inspections may include a school’s accessibility plan as part of their review. Remember to include:
- How the curriculum is differentiated and, at Key Stage 4, what alternative accreditation is offered
- How information for pupils, parents and the community is available in different formats, using Widgit symbols, Braille, larger font or reduced/simplified language. All schools have access to Communicate in Print software to generate Widgit symbols. If you need advice on symbols and alternative formats, please speak to any member of Integrated Disability Service staff or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Plans to improve the signage in the buildings and grounds
- Arrangements that could be put in place if a disabled parent needed support to attend a school event, e.g. the availability of a signer for a parents’ evening
- The Equality Act requires "reasonable adjustments" and many adjustments are low cost or no cost; the EHRC advice on Reasonable Adjustments is available in Downloads.
Requirement to provide auxiliary aids
From September 2012 schools are required to provide auxiliary aids (and services) for disabled pupils to overcome any disadvantage experienced in schools. Advice on meeting this requirement can be found on pages 17-20 of the EHRC’s Reasonable Adjustments’ Guidance in the Downloads’ section. Alternatively, you can seek guidance from specialist staff from Integrated Disability Service Teaching & Learning. Remember many aids are relatively straightforward and inexpensive to supply.