Reasonable adjustments

Nurseries, Schools and Colleges must take steps to ensure disabled children and young people are not substantially disadvantaged due to their disability. ‘Reasonable adjustments’ is the term used to describe these in law. 

What is a disability?

According to the Equality Act 2010, a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment, which has a long-term and substantial adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Long-term‘ – meaning 12 months or more.

Substantial‘ – meaning more than ‘minor’ or ‘trivial’.

View the government ‘Equality Act 2010 Guidance’for more information.

What the law says

The Equality Act 2010 (part 6 applies to education) contains the ‘reasonable adjustments duty.

The SEND Code of Practice 2015 summarises the Equality Act duty and says Nurseries, Schools and Colleges must:

  • not directly or indirectly discriminate against, harass or victimise disabled children and young people
  • make reasonable adjustments, including the provision of auxiliary aids and services, to ensure that disabled children and young people are not at a substantial disadvantage compared with their peers. This duty is anticipatory – it requires thought to be given in advance to what disabled children and young people might require and what adjustments might need to be made to prevent that disadvantage (Introduction xix)

What this means

  • Schools must provide detailed information about their arrangements for the admission of disabled pupils to the school and publish an accessibility plan explaining adjustments they can make and ongoing plans to improve access.
  • They must also publish a SEN information reportexplaining how they identify and support children with Special Educational Needs and Disability – so the schools’ own website can be a useful starting point.

Nurseries, Schools and Colleges should be thinking in advance, and reviewing what adjustments they may need to make to avoid substantial disadvantage for disabled children.

  • All aspects are covered, including homework, school trips, provision of education and around exclusions.
  • They must make reasonable adjustments to procedures, criteria and practices and by the provision of auxiliary aids and services.
  • Nurseries and post-16 providers must also make reasonable adjustments by making physical alterations.
  • Schools and the local authority are not required to make physical alterations, but they must publish accessibility plans (and local authorities, accessibility strategies) setting out how they plan to increase access for disabled pupils to the curriculum, the physical environment and to information.

The Equality and Human Rights commission have some useful guidance: Equality Act technical guidance

Examples of Reasonable Adjustments:

  • On a residential trip a pupil with sensory needs can take meals in a separate room with a small group of friends rather than in the large busy cafeteria;
  • A secondary school organises for a subject usually taught upstairs to be taught on the ground floor to enable access for a pupil in a wheelchair;
  • A student with medical needs is able to take an exam at home or have a delayed start;
  • A pupil with chronic fatigue is given a ‘buddy’ to carry school books and the school policy adjusted so that they will not be penalised for arriving late.

Where something a nursery, school or college does might put a disabled child at a substantial disadvantagecompared with other children who are not disabled, they musttake reasonable steps to avoid this disadvantage.

This is usually referred to as the reasonable adjustments duty.

The duty is anticipatory.  This means that nurseries, schools and colleges need to think ahead to anticipate where a pupil may experience disadvantage and put adjustments in place to stop this happening.

The duty applies to all aspects of learning including class and homework, school trips, procedures, services (including the use of a TA), auxiliary aids (like a manual step or a digital aid), policies (including a behavioural policy) and exclusions.

The reasonable adjustments duty is a continuing duty.  This means that adjustments need to be kept under reviewed and may need changing over time.

It is good practice to involve parents and pupils in planning and agreeing reasonable adjustments.

Sometimes settings may need to call on specialist advice, but most reasonable adjustments might be changes to policies and practices which may cost very little or nothing. They may take time to plan.

Nurseries and post 16 settings must make reasonable adjustments to their environment.

Schools are not required to make physical alterations, but they must publish accessibility plans explaining how they plan to increase access for disabled pupils to the curriculum, the physical environment and to information.

What can I do if I have concerns about equal opportunities?

For school age children, take a look at the accessibility plan on the School’s own website, which will include information about how the school plans to improve access for disabled children.

Schools must also publish a SEN Information report (PDF), this will explain how they support and include children with SEN and how they will involve you in the process.

Talk to the educational setting to explain your concerns and how you feel your child is being disadvantaged.

Share any suggestions you have for how your child could be supported with adjustments.

If you still have some concerns you could raise these with the Head Teacher, or make a formal complaint to the school and Governing body. The schools own website will have information about their complaints procedure.

If you feel your disabled child has been discriminated against you could: complain to the SEND Tribunal.

Watch our ‘What is a disability?’ video

Read script of recording (opens PDF)

Watch our ‘Equal opportunities for disabled pupils’ video

Read script of recording (opens PDF)