In response to the requirements of Part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, local authorities (LAs) and schools now need to review and revise their strategies and plans to improve access to schools for disabled pupils.

These new strategies and plans should be designed to cover the next three- year period, from 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2009. Helpful advice about developing, monitoring and evaluating plans and strategies is available online on the teachernet website.(1)

Given the emphasis on listening to the views of children and young people in relation to their experiences of educational and related services that they receive, it is likely to be increasingly important that disabled pupils should contribute to the development of new access strategies and plans. With this in mind, it is noteworthy that innovative work in this area has already been undertaken by a disabled student, Eleni Burgess. Her research, based on a survey and interviews undertaken in 2002, still includes messages relevant to current circumstances and is all the more powerful because the findings were gathered by someone with direct experience of efforts to include disabled pupils in mainstream schools.(2)

The research reviewed access to the school environment (eg getting around) and to various aspects of the formal and informal curriculum (eg the impact of learning support, the lack of role models, and participation in activities like music and school trips). It also presented the specific views of five disabled teenagers, and these highlighted many of the ‘details’ of school life that made it a difficult or good experience. In conclusion, the study noted that:

‘There is still a long way to go before integration [inclusion] is achieved. No other group in school is so often separated from their peers, excluded from school trips and sports, struggling to get round school, missing lessons, arriving late, and unable to achieve independence.’

More positively, the research report included a checklist for action, identifying a number of ways in which disability access could be improved in schools. It also illustrated how disabled pupils, rather than members of staff, could identify what needs to be done to make schools more inclusive educational environments, and how they should bring about necessary changes.

Notes
1. This information is based on research carried out by the Council for Disabled Children and Special Educational Needs Joint Initiative (SENJIT): Further details are available here.

2. Are We Nearly There Yet?: Do teenage wheelchair users think integration has been achieved in secondary schools in the UK? by Eleni Burgess (2003), can be obtained for £3 (inc p&p). Tel: 0161 449 9635.

Improving access to schools: starting points

This checklist of questions to ask and issues to consider should enable schools, and access advisers, to identify aspects of provision that could be changed to improve access to education for disabled pupils.

Is the local secondary school accessible?

  • How many children that use wheelchairs are not at their local school? (ie not with brothers and sisters and other children from primary school).

Travelling to school

  • Look at students’ journey time to school. Are disabled pupils spending longer travelling than others pupils?
  • Are pupils who are wheelchair users able to attend after-school activities and still use transport?

Independent access

  • Are pupils missing some subjects and part of every lesson because of access problems?
  • Can careful timetabling cut down students’ journeys between buildings and classrooms?

Equipment for inclusion and independence

  • Install adjustable-height desks and equipment. Regularly check the suitability of equipment (especially in cookery/ technology/science).

School trips are part of the curriculum

  • Set out guidance for teachers on school trips, laying emphasis on early planning (access, loos, accessible transport, staff providing personal care)
  • Build up a register of accessible venues and transport providers, so that school can refer to it when planning trips.

Sex education

  • Consider whether sex education meets the needs of disabled pupils, and, where the topic is included, is sensitive on the issue of termination on grounds of disability.

Sport and PE

  • Ensure that there are options for PE that can be taken by wheelchair users alongside their peers
  • Set up a local PE network for the sharing of information and good practice.

Role models

  • Introduce books and teaching materials that include people with disability. All subjects should be reviewed to consider how to amend the present exclusion of people with disabilities
  • Schools should encourage applicants with disabilities to be employed in a variety of roles.

Independence, self-esteem and inclusion

  • Ensure annual reviews measure progress and that adequate learning support and personal care (and cover for absence) is specified
  • Do risk assessments and agree independence targets, in consultation with pupils and parents.

Training

  • Include regular disability training for all staff.
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