Nic Dakin – 2016 Parliamentary Question to the Department for Education

The below Parliamentary question was asked by Nic Dakin on 2016-03-23.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps she is taking to ensure that local authorities are required to take action on education and early years settings that intentionally exclude disabled children and do not meet their legal duties to such children under the Equality Act 2010.

Edward Timpson

Promoting equality in education settings is a priority for this Government. In combination with our guidance to schools on managing medical conditions, the Equality Act 2010 provides a broad basis for ensuring that disabled pupils are included and supported to achieve their full potential.

The Equality Act requires all schools (whether maintained or academy) to produce an accessibility plan. These plans ensure that all aspects of school life are accessible to disabled pupils. The Act also requires Local Authorities to produce accessibility strategies with the same aims as the school-level plan, but with different coverage. There is no evidence of schools or early years settings systematically refusing to accept disabled children. However, we do take action where individual cases are brought to our attention.

Our Early Implementer Package for the new extended childcare offer will include testing how we can improve access for children with SEN and disabilities. This will provide critical information before the national rollout.

Any exclusions from school must be lawful, reasonable and fair. Schools have a legal duty not to discriminate against a pupil because of a protected characteristic. The statutory guidance on exclusion emphasises the importance of early intervention to address underlying causes of disruptive behaviour, including an assessment of whether suitable provision is in place to support any SEN or disability a pupil may have. It also states that headteachers should, as far as possible, avoid excluding permanently any pupil with a statement of SEN.

In certain circumstances, governing bodies must review head teachers’ decisions to exclude and have the power to reinstate a pupil. Where a governing body upholds a permanent exclusion, parents can request that the decision is reviewed by an independent review panel. However, the governing body has the final say on whether the pupil can return to the school. Parents can request that a SEN expert provides impartial advice to the panel.

Parents can also make a claim to the First-tier Tribunal (SEN and Disabilities) when it is alleged that an exclusion relates to disability discrimination. The Tribunal has the power to order the pupil’s reinstatement.

When Ofsted inspect a school and look at the behaviour management policies they can also consider whether the school is disproportionately excluding pupils with disabilities and can use this to inform their assessment.