All schools must comply with the Equality Act 2010, showing that they have made ‘reasonable’ adjustments enabling all pupils can access their facilities and services. More specifically, the school is required to demonstrate (with their Accessibility Plan) that they are taking positive steps to ensure that disabled pupils can fully participate in the education provided by the school, and enjoy all the benefits associated.
Many schools fear that in order to comply with the Equality Act, their Accessibility Plan will include many areas of improvement which are costly. This is actually not always the case. Many reasonable adjustments are inexpensive and will often involve a change of practice rather than the purchase of expensive pieces of equipment.
Example – a school can ensure all classes for a pupil in a wheelchair are on the ground level. This way, the school has demonstrated that they have made a reasonable adjustment resulting in this pupil having access to not only the building, but also the curriculum. It would be unreasonable to expect a school to install a lift to allow access to the upper levels of the school.
The point of an Accessibility Plan is for the school to have provisions in place should a disabled pupil join. In other words, the school’s duty to make reasonable adjustments is an anticipatory one. Schools need to think about what disabled pupils may require and what adjustments might need to made for them.
It is worth noting that the Equality Act 2010 does not actually state what is considered reasonable. Although this may cause confusion for some, it actually is designed for flexibility – what is reasonable in one circumstance may not be reasonable in another. It is obviously not possible to say what would or wouldn’t be reasonable in a certain situation, however some factors which may help decide are issues such as the financial cost of making an adjustment, the practicality of the adjustment in question, the resources of the school and the impact on other pupils.
Example – a disabled pupil with an EHC plan attends a mainstream school and uses an electronic notetaker in lessons which is provided through the EHC plan. The support needed is provided through the EHC plan and so the school does not have to make a reasonable adjustment by providing these aids.
It works both ways. At a recent school we visited there was a disabled pupil with diabetes who needed insulin injections. Although this child did not actually have SEN, a lack of daily support would mean he would be at a substantial disadvantage to his peers. In this case, it would be considered reasonablefor the school to provide support.
To summarise, what is reasonable and what is not is fluid. If an adjustment costs nothing to implement, it is most likely reasonable to do so. Although there is no lawful definition of what is considered reasonable, schools can be reassured that most adjustments involve simple practical changes rather that structural changes to the building.