We assumed my disability and health issues would be taken into account when applying for a primary school place for my stepson. How wrong we were! We soon discovered our local council didn’t look at parent/carers needs under medical/social criteria in their school admissions code. In fact this seems to be the case in most areas across England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have slightly different rules.
So why do disabled parents and carers need accessible schools, and what are we classifying as an accessible school?
The problem is two-fold. Some parents/carers are offered schools nearby, but the buildings are inaccessible. Others have been offered schools that are too difficult to travel to. I see an accessible school as a school that is nearby/easy to travel to and has an accessible building. Research proves children’s educational outcomes are better when parents are able to have active participation in their education. This doesn’t mean just helping with homework, but being able to volunteer, take children to and from school, and actually get into the school building for events. Too many children of disabled parents/carers being given places at inaccessible schools. This means that they are at a disadvantage to children of able-bodied parents!
Its also important for health reasons. Many of us with conditions which affect our energy levels are only able to do so much in a day. I was expected to make a return journey of five minute walk, two buses and another ten minute walk, twice a day. That could have easily taken over an hour each way, but only if the wheelchair space on the bus was free. In reality it would have been longer as those spaces frequently aren’t. I would have spent most of my day recovering from doing the school run. On bad days it may have been completely impossible. I did ask for assistance with transport but one council worker suggested I arrange for a childminder to take him. At my own cost obviously!
Why are disabled parents/carers given places at inaccessible schools?
To put it simply – most councils are not fully following the Equalities Act 2010. The Department of Education has not given clear guidance regarding disabled parents and the application of School admissions criteria. Anyone who suffers a long-term health condition or disability should be offered reasonable adjustments so that they can have equal access to public buildings, businesses and services, as stated in the Equalities Act 2010.
The issue of applying this “reasonable adjustment” is that it is a vague term. What is and isn’t reasonable is very subjective. The adjustment needed may also differ from person to person. The application of reasonable adjustment has been an issue since the creation of the Disability Discrimination act in 1995 (the predessor of the Equalities Act), due to the terms vague nature. I’ll be going into more detail about what the equalities act really means in lay terms in another blog.
Back to my case…
I was really lucky to have my case overturned at appeal. This was mostly due to that old chestnut – reasonable adjustment! I stated that the council had offered no reasonable adjustment as required to by the Equalities Act 2010. It does seem that my case is the exception rather than the rule. So many parents and carers haven’t been so lucky. I have heard horror stories. Astronomical taxi bills, parents met at school gates as the playground wasn’t accessible. Some parents have even felt pushed to pull their children out of school altogether and homeschool. So with the support of ALLFIE (Alliance for Inclusive Education) I set up this petition, calling for my council to change their admissions preference criteria to include children of disabled parents/carers.
This is a statement ALLFIE have made regarding disabled parents and school admissions code:
“Many of the 1.2 million disabled people in the UK will be parents of school-aged children and will have experienced disability discrimination during the schools admissions procedure. Disabled parents have had to fight, involve lawyers and attend various appeal hearings in order to secure an accessible school placement so that they can be involved in their children’s education.
Just like their peer group, disabled parents want to drop off and pick up their own children at the school gates, to feel part of their local school community by attending parents’ meetings and events such as plays and sports days and to volunteer and be involved within the school community’s activities such as the Parents and Teachers Association. Disabled parents tell us that without having access to a suitable accessible school they could not comply with their parental legal responsibility to ensure their children receive full-time education suitable for their age and aptitudes, ie attending a local school.
What are disabled parents telling us?
Disabled parents tell us that they experience unacceptable disability discrimination during the schools admissions process despite the Equality Act 2010 being in place to ensure they are protected against unfair treatment by local authorities and schools. Too frequently parents are being allocated schools with an inaccessible journey or situated within inaccessible buildings.”
Please sign my petition and contact your local MP about this issue! If you are having difficulty gaining a place at an accessible school, please get in touch with ALLFIE. They have been an invaluable resource in my case!