The rights of schoolchildren and students with disabilities

The Equality Act 2010 has comprehensive provisions in place relating to preventing discrimination in UK schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions. The statute states that educational institutions must provide “reasonable adjustments” for pupils and students with disabilities to prevent them from being placed at a disadvantage by their disability. 

Before attending any such institution, disabled pupils or students should make the institution aware of their disability. The institution then has the legal obligation to ensure that all appropriate systems that address the special requirements of that student are in place.

What exactly does it mean to make ‘reasonable adjustments’?

As described within the relevant legislation, the duty is “to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid substantial disadvantage” to a disabled pupil. The duty to provide reasonable adjustments is divided into three specific areas:

* Adjustments to physical features of an educational establishment, e.g. actual physical access to buildings and classrooms. This might typically include ramps or stairway lifts, making doors wider or proving clearer signs or more lighting. In basic terms this means making sure that the physical environment of the educational institution does not unfairly disadvantage disabled pupils or students.

* Adjustments to what the Equality Act calls “provisions, criteria or practices”, which includes things such as disciplinary procedures. Essentially this covers the entirety of an institution’s procedures, policies, arrangements and activities.

* Adjustments in the provision of auxiliary aids, which might include making sure that information is provided in a format that is accessible, such as large print and Braille. It also includes the provision of specialist equipment or the assistance of extra staff.

In cases where any of the above elements place a disabled pupil or student at “a substantial disadvantage”, the educational institution in question must make such amendments as are “reasonable in all the circumstances” to reduce or remove the disadvantage.

My child’s school is failing to make reasonable adjustments to deal with their disability. What can I do?

If you feel your child is being disadvantaged and reasonable adjustments to eliminate that disadvantage have not been made, you can:

* Request a meeting with your child’s head teacher to discuss the problem

* Speak to the governing body or trust

* Follow the written complaints procedure of your child’s education provider

* Contact the Local Authority

If all of this fails to get satisfactory results, you may be able to make an unlawful discrimination claim through the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) (for England) or the SEN Tribunal for Wales (in Wales).

Trying to overcome discrimination of this kind can seem a little overwhelming. If you would appreciate someone fighting for your corner, contact a dedicated team of specialist education lawyers such as Match Solicitors to discuss your child’s situation in total confidence.

Anita ChopraYou read Anita’s full article here.

Anita Chopra is a director at education law specialists Match Solicitors and is a regular media commentator on legal issues arising in education. She has a “huge breadth of experience across all kinds of education” and “has a great instinct for cases.”