This guidance was created in collaboration with our SEND expert.
The Equality Act 2010 applies a duty to schools and education authorities to provide ‘reasonable’ adjustments for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The law states that, it is unlawful for schools to treat any pupil unfavourably and the school must make reasonable adjustments to ensure there is no discrimination – building work such as ramps and wide doors to accommodate wheelchairs are not included in this. The school’s own planning must make the building accessible for pupils with disabilities who may attend in the future – schools must plan ahead for their cohort.
Schools must have an ‘Accessibility Plan’, which will improve the educational experience of pupils with SEND and increase the extent to which they can be fully included in lessons.
What is reasonable?
Reasonable adjustments might include timetabling all lessons for a pupil in a wheelchair and their class on the ground floor. It would be unreasonable to expect the school to install a lift to allow access to the upper levels of the school. Similarly, it would be treating the pupil unfairly if the rest of their class was taught on an upper level and the pupil received one-to-one teaching on the ground floor – all pupils are entitled to be fully included in the lesson.
Further examples of reasonable adjustments would include the provision of auxiliary aids for those who need them. For example, a pupil with communication challenges should be provided with a voice output device, colourful semantics or symbols to aid understanding; a pupil who cannot write should be provided with someone to take notes or a device to record the lesson. Further examples of auxiliary aids would include audio books, braille and enlarged print for visually-impaired pupils. It would be unreasonable to expect the school to employ a specialist teacher for visually-impaired pupils, but they should seek advice if they believe it may be necessary to do so.
It would be reasonable to introduce sign language to a school for a hearing-impaired pupil; however, it would be unreasonable to expect a school to introduce an induction loop system. In the same way, it would be reasonable to expect a school to add dark film to windows for a pupil with photosensitivity, but it would be unreasonable to expect them to replace all windows with new darkened glass.
There is no lawful definition of reasonable, and there is no set process to determine whether something is reasonable, but most of the adjustments outlined as reasonable above involve practical changes rather than structural building work or expensive specialist teaching.
If the health and safety of the pupil or others is compromised by making an adjustment, this would not be classed as a reasonable adjustment. Also, if the financial implications are so enormous that the cost outweighs the benefits, this could not be seen as a reasonable adjustment. Schools have a duty to consider the needs of other pupils. For example, it would not be reasonable to prevent the class from participating in practical activities, such as cookery or music, because one pupil cannot be included. Instead, schools must plan ahead and provide auxiliary aids, such as switch-powered cookery tools and switch-accessible musical instruments, to ensure accessibility.
There is a need to maintain high academic standards for all pupils. Most pupils with SEND will have their needs met through the school’s Accessibility Plan. Schools should ensure they have enough funding within their budget to meet the needs of all their pupils. Pupils with an education, health and care (EHC) plan or a statement of SEN will have funding for the auxiliary aids they need provided within their package. Where there is no SEND diagnosed, and therefore no EHC plan funding, the school should make a reasonable adjustment and provide a teaching assistant to prevent a pupil with challenging behaviour from disrupting the lesson. Schools should also provide reasonable auxiliary aids to allow the pupil to access the lesson and be fully included. Funding for this may come from pupil premium or schools may have their own funds for specialist chairs not covered by EHC plans.
The school must use its own judgement as to what it should provide for pupils with SEND. Schools should take into account the finances of the school, the cost and effectiveness of the auxiliary aid, the health and safety of all the pupils, as well as the explicit needs of the individual pupil. Where the need cannot be met by the school’s own budget or the EHC plan, schools can apply to their LA for funding for equipment. Most LAs have a panel for funding of complex or exceptional needs which schools may apply to. Top-up funding is also available for mainstream schools in certain circumstances and there are also SEND-related grants that schools can apply for in certain circumstances.
Schools need to be flexible when determining reasonable adjustments, and any adjustments made must be in the best interests of the pupil concerned and their immediate peers.
The following websites provide further information on disability and equality rights in terms of the law as well as guidance for supporting pupils with SEND:
Equality Act 2010, part 6, chapter 1