Schools failing in legal duty to implement 'accessibility plans'

Schools are falling foul of a legal duty to improve provision for disabled pupils, new research has warned.

Disabled learners and their parents are “largely uninformed” about the existence of accessibility plans, despite a legal requirement for schools to create, regularly review and implement them, the study claimed.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) and Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) study found just 35 per cent of education professionals surveyed had heard of the plans.

Almost two thirds of the 127 councils approached under the freedom of information act also did not know if their schools had plans in place.

By law, school governing bodies must prepare and implement a written plan setting out how they plan to increase the extent to which disabled pupils can participate in their curriculum. The plans must also stipulate how schools intend to improve their physical environment to boost participation of disabled pupils. 

The plans have been a legal requirement since 2002. Statutory guidance published by the Department for Education also states the plans must be reviewed every three years.

But the research found pupils and parents often don’t know accessibility plans exist, and are “rarely involved in their production, development or review”. Just 21 per cent of parents who responded to the question said they had heard of the plans.

And those parents who do know about the plans remain unconvinced about their impact, with just one in five believing they have improved opportunities for disabled children.

The research project, which ran 12 focus groups and surveyed around 300 parents and 100 education professionals, also called into question the impact of the plans.

Just 48 per cent of education professionals and 20 per cent of parents surveyed said the plans had improved the opportunity for children to take part in activities, while 51 per cent and 23 per cent respectively said the plans had improved access.

The report demands new comprehensive national guidelines to support schools in producing “robust” plans, and regular, impairment-specific disability and inclusion training for teachers, headteachers and senior managers.

It also calls for government monitoring and enforcement to address the issues, and said Ofsted should have a legal duty to monitor the impact and implementation of the plans. At the moment, Ofsted inspectors can mention the plans in their inspections, but they do not have to do so.

“Accessibility Plans must focus not only on the removal of physical barriers in schools, but on challenging attitudinal, systemic and other obstacles within the admissions process so disabled learners can attend their preferred school and achieve their full potential,” said ALLFIE director Michelle Daley. “That is an internationally-recognised human right.”

Hilra Vinha, a SENDco at Richard Taunton Sixth Form College in Southampton said she often heard from disabled pupils about the “difficulties” they faced in secondary schools. She believes councils and Ofsted should do more to ensure schools develop and deliver on their plans, and that pupils and parents should be involved in writing them.

“[My students] have talked about not being heard or understood or taken into consideration when decisions are made and changes implemented,” she said.

“Teachers or schools are not deliberately making things more difficult – it’s mostly a training issue for teachers and headteachers.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Schools must have accessibility plans which set out how they will improve access to the curriculum and make sure their buildings enable disabled pupils to take full advantage of the school.”