Press releases

Press release: ‘Accessibility Plans as Effective Tools for Inclusion in Schools, Are They Working?’ research report launch

23 January 2020: For immediate release

New research project report highlights “shocking impact” on disabled pupils of schools’ failures around Accessibility Plans and equality of access.

Read/download the full report: Accessibility Plans as Effective Tools for Inclusion in Schools: Are They Working?
Read/download the Easy read report: Easy-read version of ‘Accessibility Plans as Effective Tools for Inclusion in Schools: Are They Working?’

Schools are failing to meet their legal duties around ‘Accessibility Plans’ that should set out how they will meet the needs of disabled pupils and their parents, research published today warns.

This failure, together with other serious shortcomings amounting to illegal discrimination, has a shocking – and often devastating impact – on many disabled children and their families.

The report recommends action, including from Ofsted and local authorities, to monitor how schools are developing and implanting plans – which schools have been legally required to produce since 2002.

The research included focus groups, interviews and surveys with Disabled pupils and their parents and with education professionals.

Accessibility Plans were intended to

  • improve access
  • provide parents with sufficient information so they could be involved in decision-making about their Disabled children – including choice of school
  • ensure teaching and assessment approaches meet the needs of disabled pupils.

However, the report concludes few parents are even aware Accessibility Plans exist.

Unsurprisingly, the report says, this means that none of the parents had used them to challenge physical barriers or discriminatory practices during the admissions process or after their child had secured a school place.

Dr Armineh Soorenian carried out the research. She said: “Schools should involve parents in developing and reviewing their Accessibility Plans. They should promote them rather than hiding them away in the furthest reaches of their website. Crucially, schools clearly need to turn the fine words often set out in those plans into meaningful support for Disabled pupils and their parents.”

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) oversaw the study, which was funded by the £5 million DRILL programme (Disability Research on Independent Living & Learning) – the first user-led disability research programme in the world.

Michelle Daley, director of ALLFIE said: “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. That is an internationally-recognised human right.”

“The report highlights the need for strong national guidelines on Accessibility Plans.”

The report says that physical barriers and discriminatory attitudes and practices mean many schools are breaking laws under the Equality Act and Children and Families Act. The illegal discrimination many disabled pupils face means they cannot realise their full potential.

The report also highlights that the UK is breaching the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled persons, although the Government entered a ‘reservation’ to the right to mainstream education with appropriate support when it signed up in 2009. The report suggests “the UK remains out of step internationally on equal access to education”.

Many Disabled pupils, the report says, are unable to take part in the full range of school activities – including school trips or PE lessons – amounting to segregation that breaches the Convention.

Some parents worry that the various pressures and discrimination around access, learning and social inclusion could ‘break’ their children socially and emotionally.

One mother said the behaviour of education professionals towards her son was ‘barbaric’.

She asked: “How are these people who are caring for our children behaving horrendously?”

For many parents, the battle to ensure their child received the same educational opportunities as non-disabled children begins during the admissions process. They often meet prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes and obstacles that deny them real choice and the ability to make informed decisions regarding their children’s education.

The study found parents sometimes choose a special school or home schooling due to fears about inadequate support levels for their child’s educational, social and emotional needs.

Sue Bott from DRILL added: “Programmes should be put in place to adequately support Disabled young people, ensuring a consistent and rights-based approach to education. Teaching and assessment procedures must be responsive to – and support – each child’s needs.”

The report’s recommendations include

  • Comprehensive national guidelines to support schools in producing robust Accessibility Plans
  • Regular impairment-specific disability and inclusion training for teachers, headteachers and senior managers should be included in Accessibility Plans
  • The Department for Education needs to monitor, promote and enforce the positive and continuous development and implementation of Accessibility Plans
  • Teaching staff should adopt appropriate teaching methods such as multi-level instruction, co-operative learning, individualised learning modules, activity-based learning and peer tutoring to ensure they meet the needs of Disabled pupils
  • Accessibility Plans should commit schools to the provision of more opportunities for Disabled pupils to socialise with other children in fully accessible settings, including accessible playgrounds and include anti-bullying strategies.

Despite legal protection, the report points out, the percentage of pupils with special educational needs or a disability in mainstream schools has fallen by 24% since 2012 – while the number in special schools has risen by nearly a third. However, instead of funding inclusive and improved support and resources in mainstream education, the Government is planning costly new special schools

Notes to editors:

  1. The report includes analysis of over 400 respondents, including around 100 education professionals. Methods included interviews, focus groups and online surveys. Case studies are available.
  2. Media inquiries: 07856 213837
  3. DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning) is a 5 year programme funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and led by disabled people. It aims to build better evidence about approaches to enable disabled people to achieve independent living, which is used to inform future policy and service provision, as well as give a greater voice to disabled people in decisions which affect them. It is managed by Disability Rights UK, Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and Disability Action Northern Ireland.
  4. ALLFIE is a disabled people’s organisation which campaigns for inclusive education for disabled learners. ALLFIE is a unique voice. Formed in 1990, we are the only organisation led by Disabled people focused on campaigning and information-sharing on education, training and apprenticeship issues. We campaign for the right of all Disabled pupils and students to be fully included in mainstream education, training and apprenticeships with all necessary supports. ALLFIE believes that inclusive education is the basis of lifelong equality. Children who learn and play together will grow into adults who can understand and respect each other’s differences.