DfE told to fix disability data gaps for half of teachers

Small study says schools are not including disability when collecting staff diversity data, with experts and schools urging new guidance

Small study says schools are not including disability when collecting staff diversity data, with experts and schools urging new guidance

23 Feb 2023, 14:35

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Experts have called for new guidance to fix gaps in data on disabled staff, with schools lacking information for most teachers despite annual workforce censuses.

New research warns of a “lack of awareness” among schools that they need to “complete data from a diversity and inclusion perspective” – and recommends the Department for Education communicate this.

The qualitative study is only based on interviews with 20 school and council staff, but was commissioned by the DfE itself to understand barriers to collecting data.

It comes after the most recently published national staff census showed schools had not obtained disability data for 53 per cent of teachers. The DfE then left disability out of its analysis of staff characteristics – looking only at gender, ethnicity and age instead – due to the “large amount of missing data”.

The government has said previously that schools’ November 2021 census found 1 per cent of teachers were disabled, but this “may not truly reflect the real position”. Recent Office for National Statistics data found 17.7 per cent of the population, including all age groups, were disabled.

Schools urged to ask staff regularly about disability

The new study, by BMG Research, recommended fresh guidance to encourage schools to “regularly ask for” staff’s disability status, and raise awareness of what is classed as a disability.

The DfE should explain the need for consistent wording – with ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘prefer not to say’ as options – and underline the importance of accurately recording this for every staff member.

“Encouragingly, the schools in this sample were willing to take steps to improve the
completeness of their data, but they all stressed the need for guidance from DfE in order to achieve this, suggesting that the current guidance is perhaps not sufficient.”

The study states data is “key” to improving recruitment and retention, and supporting policy development, pastoral care and practical adjustments to “ensure the needs of disabled staff are accounted for”.

Most participants said their data was not complete, and some said it was “not something they often looked at”. They “tended not to perceive a need to collect complete data on disability for the purpose of reporting on the diversity and inclusion of the workforce internally or for reporting in the school workforce census”.

Schools’ main focus was on collecting information specifically “to be able to support individual staff members…by ensuring any necessary adaptations are in place in the workplace”.

Two schools even voiced concern about whether storing complete disability information was “appropriate” under data protection legislation. But some multi-academy trust respondents did “describe an increasing desire from their boards to report more fully on diversity within the workforce including disability”.

Researchers said providing “reassurance to schools on the legitimacy and importance” of data collection could address concerns about data protection and “being discriminatory”.

Disabled teachers ‘sidelined’

University of Cambridge academics behind another small study in 2021 claimed disabled teachers “seem to have been sidelined”, asking how inclusivity could be promoted “if it only extends to children”.

Their report suggested disabled teachers continue to face discrimination, often resulting less from prejudice than performance pressures that make accommodating staff needs difficult.

One employee was reportedly disciplined for devising workarounds for systems she couldn’t use, while some felt undervalued by colleagues and unable to disclose disabilities to employers.

The DfE said in 2018 there was “more to do” to support disabled teachers. It was approached for comment.

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