The DRILL project one year on
“We had one headteacher tell us our child would effectively be too expensive. He said he could be instructed to take our child, but he’d prefer not to.” Armineh Soorenian reports back on ALLFIE’s research into English secondary schools’ Accessibility Plans.
For our DRILL-funded project, I held twelve focus groups in seven locations across the country, conducted five in-depth interviews, and obtained over 370 responses to our online questionnaires. The project has exceeded our expectations, and the data gathered reflects very insightful trends. Sometimes, the findings are reinforced by all three participant groups – Disabled young people, parents, and professionals – and at other times rigorously contradicted. As well as exploring questions about the strength of accessibility plans, the groups discussed admission, information, learning and teaching, and social life. Here I present a taster of some of our findings*.
Some professionals referred to unlawful practices of schools turning Disabled children away because of high needs. This was reinforced by parents. Adam talked about his frustration in this regard: “We had one headteacher tell us our child would effectively be too expensive. He said he could be instructed to take our child, but he’d prefer not to.”
Parents talked about how, in the absence of accessible information from their schools about important events and activities, they must scour their school’s websites and newsletters or ask other parents for crucial details. This is particularly difficult for parents whose children are on ‘part-time’ contracts or have transport from home, because opportunities to meet other parents are limited. This contributes to a sense of isolation.
In the professionals’ groups, a speech and language therapist commented on the inaccessibility of school documents: “Documents outlining SEND and behaviour policy tend to be written in high level language suitable for individuals already highly familiar with the topics, procedures and provisions. They take little account of the possibility they may be needed by a parent trying to understand processes and provisions for a child for the first time.”
Learning and teaching
All groups expressed dissatisfaction about the inaccessibility of PE lessons for Disabled young people. Teachers were criticised for being unwilling to accommodate various needs in their PE lessons. Carley, one of our young participants, was unable to take PE in her first year at secondary school. Her mum said the school’s excuse was, “She couldn’t get changed, it was a health and safety issue…. Seeing as she dresses herself every day, we couldn’t figure out why”. Eventually the school relented, but did not offer alternative PE provision. Carley explained how the teacher made her climb the climbing frame despite not having strength in her legs. The more she said she couldn’t do it, the more the teacher pushed her up the ladders. The strain on her hands eventually broke her wrists.
Participants highlighted lack of transport and support for after school clubs as a key barrier to pupils’ participation in social life. Parents discussed how risk assessments are used as an excuse not to take Disabled children on school trips. Professionals spoke about how Disabled children are left out of or discriminated against during social activities. One professional went as far as saying: “This is the second highest area of discrimination after exclusions.”
Currently I am analysing all the contributions in detail. In Autumn 2019, we will publish a full report, including recommendations on a range of school practices. I am confident that the rich stories shared by all participants have the potential to provoke significant change in improving Disabled young people’s quality of schooling. I am driven to produce a report which will urge and motivate policy-makers and education professionals to implement changes needed to bring about genuine inclusion in mainstream education.
Dr Armineh Soorenian
*Names have been changed to protect participants’ identities