Taking a full part in any school curriculum is vital for children from all backgrounds and abilities. This means not only having the provisions put in place where they have every chance to learn and engage in school life but also making sure that no areas of an institution are inaccessible for one reason or another.
Accessibility has been an ongoing challenge for many of our public bodies. While new schools have been built with this important aspect very much part of the design process, older buildings have required remedial measures to be put in place that give greater access to disabled pupils. The Equality Act of 2010 requires institutions such as schools to have accessibility plans in place and to demonstrate how they are meeting their obligations for increasing the chance of disabled pupils to engage fully in school life.
The good news in the UK is that we are further ahead than many other countries. In some parts of the world, access to education is denied to a great many children who have some kind of disability. It is one of the leading causes of keeping these groups of people in poverty and preventing them from getting on in the world.
While in the UK there are much better provisions in place, there are still things that can be done to increase access. A child who is not able to get to a particular class because there is no lift in place to get to the right floor is evidently going to be disadvantaged and that’s a situation that cannot be tolerated.
For older school buildings, the changes that have had to take place include everything from including disabled access parking spaces, ensuring routes into the school are more easily navigable with ramps and lifts, and that all pupils can get to classrooms with little or no difficulty.
While many schools have embraced this ethos, there are still others who do not provide the right kind of access for pupils such as those in wheelchairs. A report in 2014 showed that half of local education authorities had weak accessibility plans in place and others weren’t keeping their plans up to date. There is evidently some way to go.
Schools nowadays need to have a concerted plan in place to further accessibility which clearly demonstrates what they are doing to improve the extent which disabled students can take part in the curriculum. That not only includes providing a better and more inclusive environment but also making sure that pupils are aware of what is available.
OFSTED regularly inspect schools in the UK and part of that process involves checking that a particular establishment is putting in the right accessibility measures, whether that’s stair lifts for those with mobility problems or learning tools for those with disabilities such as impaired vision or those with specific mental health needs.
Lack of access is a major issue for pupils in both primary and secondary education. Being excluded means less chance of success and schools need to push forward with strong plans to make sure that we all have the opportunity to learn, thrive and engage.