with many thanks to a headteacher at a school in England
Someone is disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities.
All schools should have a statement on their websites explaining how they are satisfying the Public Sector Equality Duty. Schools need to have due regard to:
- eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the act
- advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
- foster good relations across all characteristics – between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
By law, schools should make Accessibility Plans to enable disabled children and young people to access school facilities and make the most of their education. Schools’ Accessibility Plan aims include:
- increase the extent to which disabled pupils can participate in the curriculum
- improve the physical environment of school to enable disabled pupils to take better advantage of education, benefits, facilities and services provided
- improve the availability of accessible information to disabled pupils
The plan should meet the needs of current children, so if a school has a child with a chronic condition like IBD they should have given consideration to how they are going to support that child linked to all three bullet points. For example a school should consider what can be done to enable a child to participate in the whole curriculum (this includes curriculum visits/ school trips); the physical environment obviously includes access to clean toilets; accessible information is how the school can ensure that a child has access to teaching even during periods of absence.
With regards to absence, schools have a lot more flexibility than they often allow themselves. Depending on the system the school uses to manage attendance, notes can be added to the registers online explaining why the child has been absent. When I do my attendance analysis I refer to the notes on the system and annotate my reports so that children with known conditions are not challenged over attendance. This is very easy to do. As for the Local Authority and OFSTED – they look at overall attendance figures and will challenge a school, but they also listen to the answers. One or two children in a large secondary school will not make a large impact on the overall figures. OFSTED Inspectors can show common sense. The main question they will ask is what support the school have given the family and the child.
Where the issues seem to start is when larger schools have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing attendance. My son started at his secondary school and on the whole the school have been very supportive at year head and form tutor level. However, we still get the same strongly worded communications from school that goes to everyone about attendance, containing the same threats of actions. Even though it is possible to miss certain children out of this communication, at a whole school level this is not done.
If we are trying to square different approaches then I think reference needs to be made in the OFSTED Framework with regards to inspectors widening their remit to look at the support given by the school to support children with chronic health needs as well as SEN. If schools knew that they could be challenged to explain the support and care given to children with conditions like IBD they are more likely to put the effort in. This is where the main lobbying would need to happen.