All schools must comply with the Equality Act 2010, showing that they’ve made ‘reasonable’ adjustments which enable all pupils to access their facilities and services. More specifically, the school is required to demonstrate (with their Accessibility Plan) that they’re taking positive steps to ensure disabled pupils can fully participate in the education provided by the school and enjoy all associated benefits.
Many schools fear that in order to comply with the Equality Act, their Accessibility Plan must include many costly areas of improvement, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Many reasonable adjustments are in fact relatively inexpensive, often involving a change of practice, rather than the purchase of expensive specialist equipment.
For example, a school can ensure that all classes for a wheelchair-using pupil are located at ground level – a reasonable adjustment that will grant the pupil access to both the building and the school’s 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’s worth noting that the Equality Act 2010 doesn’t actually state what’s considered reasonable. While this may cause confusion for some, it’s actually designed for flexibility; what’s reasonable in one circumstance may not be reasonable in another. It’s not possible to say what would, or wouldn’t be reasonable in any given situation, but there are certain factors which will inform the decision. These include issues such as the financial cost of making an adjustment, the practicality of the adjustment in question, the resources available to the school and resulting impact on other pupils.
Take, for example, a disabled pupil with an education, health and care plan who attends a mainstream school and uses an electronic notetaker in lessons. The note take and the support they need will already be provided through the EHCP, meaning that the school won’t have to make any reasonable adjustments before being able to provide this aid.
This process works both ways. At one school we visited recently, there was a disabled pupil with diabetes who required insulin injections. Although this child did not have SEND as such, a lack of daily support would put him at a substantial disadvantage to his peers. In this case, it would be considered reasonable for the school to provide support.
To summarise, what’s reasonable and what’s not is fluid. If an adjustment costs nothing to implement, it’s most likely reasonable to do so. Although there’s no lawful definition of what’s considered reasonable, schools can be reassured that most adjustments involve simple, practical changes rather than structural building changes.
Lesley Mifsud is head access auditor and CEO at EA Audits.