All schools are required to develop plans for improving access in relation to their curriculum, as well as their physical environment. We mustn’t discriminate against pupils in the provision of education, access to benefits and use of facilities or services by excluding them, or subjecting them to some form of detriment.
One example that comes to mind was the school I saw with a class that included one pupil who was a wheelchair user. The class was scheduled for an off-site swimming session, but the school couldn’t afford to rent a minibus with a wheelchair lift. The child in question was simply left back at school to read in the library.
We can avoid such discrimination by regularly reviewing practices, policies and procedures. All staff must be fully aware of the requirements set out in the Equality Act and their implications for the school. Providing an accessible curriculum is all about enabling disabled children and young people to fulfil their potential. Disabled children have the same right to a quality education as everyone else – thus, we must ensure that they have positive, fulfilling experiences in lessons, in sport and across any extra-curricular activities.
The way in which the classroom is organised can play an important part in this. A curriculum needs to set learning challenges that are suitable for the diversity of learners, including those with SEN, and teachers must be sufficiently equipped to respond to those diverse learning needs. The importance of effective staff training can’t be overestimated.
During my own access audits of primary schools, I’ve found that barriers to accessing the curriculum tend to centre around lack of support, insufficient time for collaborative planning, no clear leadership in relation to SEN issues and a lack of appropriate training opportunities. I’ve encountered teachers who felt that their ITT hadn’t adequately equipped them for appropriately supporting pupils with SEN, and that CPD which might remedy this wasn’t readily accessible.
Other areas of concern involve child-centred barriers, such as the nature of the child’s SEN. Sensory impairments or moderate general learning disabilities can be perceived by teachers as substantial barriers to access, as can regularly missing school through frequent or long-term illness.
The reasonable adjustments schools will already be making for their disabled pupils will likely include auxiliary aids, such as coloured overlays for dyslexic pupils, pen grips, adapted PE equipment, adapted keyboards and computer software. Many reasonable adjustments of this type are inexpensive, and will more often involve a change in practice, rather than the provision of costly special equipment or additional staff. A school’s duty to make reasonable adjustments is an anticipatory one owed to disabled pupils generally. Schools therefore need to think in advance about what their disabled pupils might require, and what adjustments might need to be made for them to fully access the curriculum.
In my experience, however, considerable progress has been made in recent years – not just in classroom teaching, but also in after-school provision and extracurricular activities, such as trips and visits. Schools are increasingly adapting their teaching methods in ways that respond to the strengths and needs of pupils through differentiation of the curriculum. Schools are generally more organised, and a more transparent ethos now prevails, whereby young people and their families are involved in key decision making regarding the school day and beyond.
Lesley Mifsud is head access auditor and CEO at EA Audits