As the DDA and Equality Act broaden the definition of disability and the duties of schools, testing has recently been completed on draft tools for helping schools to identify disability

As the DDA and Equality Act broaden the definition of disability and the duties of schools, testing has recently been completed on draft tools for helping schools to identify disability

In order to assist schools in collecting reliable and consistent disability information, a toolkit will soon be released by the Department for Education (DfE).

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) (2005) and yet to be enforced Equality Act (2010) widen the meaning of disability far beyond definitions previously used within the general population and to some extent by professionals in welfare services.

Not all children who are defined as disabled have SEN, and not all pupils with SEN will be defined as disabled under the DDA. While these form overlapping groups, there are substantial differences (see box, below).

Widened meaning of disability under DDA
The DDA defines a disability as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [a person’s] ability to carry out day to day activities.’ Day to day activities are defined as: mobility; manual dexterity; physical coordination; continence; ability to lift; speech, hearing, eyesight; memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand; understanding of risk or physical danger.

This definition includes individuals with impairment where the difficulty may be largely invisible to schools (eg mental health difficulties or medical conditions where the treatment is effective in offsetting the impact of the condition in the school setting). Schools are therefore not in a position to validate, first hand, the presence or incidence of disability. However they do have an important role to play given their knowledge of children who experience difficulties in the particular context of school.

A central element of the DDA definition concerns the impact of disability, foregrounding the importance of the subjective experience of the child and his or her family. The extension by the DDA definition to include issues of mental health and medical conditions such as HIV and facial disfigurements highlights the importance of recognising that ‘impairment’ can only be viewed within the context of its impact.

A question on disability will be introduced to the School Census from 2011, starting with Years 1 and 7.

Information on disability is required by schools, local authorities and DfE in order to understand fully, and respond to, the needs of disabled children and their families in line with the Disability Equality Duty (DED).

Developing the toolkit
To date there has been no consistent way of identifying and categorising disabilities. In response to these challenges, in 2008 the DCSF commissioned research to develop a basic data collection tool to help schools identify:

  • whether a child has a disability in line with the DDA definition
  • the nature of the child’s disability
  • the child’s support needs.

This research confirmed the importance of gathering data on disability with explicit reference to impact – ie the experience of a substantial adverse effect on everyday activities, which requires data collection from both parents and children.

The usability and reliability of the draft tool has now been tested with a sample of schools nationally and the information made available in a recent DfE report (for details of its findings, see box).

Findings of research on the draft tool
A toolkit was designed that incorporates a national questionnaire for use  with parents and a suite of five flexible tools for use with children.

The parent questionnaire provided robust information about impact. Some schools appeared to use the nature of an impairment rather than its impact on a pupil’s wellbeing and ability to learn for the starting point to identify disabled children, thereby including children not covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Further guidance and support is therefore needed to ensure that the data that are collected reliably inform recording and reporting. The inclusion of a question concerning absence as a result of a medical condition or difficulty would enable schools to recognise an impairment or health condition not manifested in school.

There is a challenge for schools in some of the most deprived areas to gain high return rates and this suggests that the timing of the data collection needs to coincide with times when schools routinely see all parents, ie at admission. Data will require refreshing during a child’s school career.

The study has indicated that there are a small group of children who, while not currently meeting criteria for disability, schools may wish to follow up or have a ‘watching brief’. The development of an online questionnaire that schools can complete with parents has the advantage of entering data directly into a data base and a simple formula can be used to inform reports on the annual school census. 

The research underscores the importance of assuring parents of the confidentiality of these data and it is important that schools in the future adopt practices in line with these. The assignment of a named person to collect and analyse the data helps to offset anxieties about confidentiality and also provides parents with a point of contact for raising issues and concerns.

More emphasis should be placed on the importance of preparation and the need to match tools to a child’s communication needs and their capacity to handle key concepts. In particular, some tools rely on children being able to think about things beyond the here and now, and teachers will need to judge whether these are the most appropriate for all the pupils in their class.

Testing of Disability Identification Tool Research
(DFE-RR025). The new identification tool should be available soon online.

Further information