Education Quandary

'Schools are having to work on a new disability equality scheme. Surely it's just more bureaucracy?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Heads such as this are justified in despairing when yet another form-filling duty lands on them. The sheer volume of government directives is unbelievable. It wouldn't be tolerated in the private sector, and is probably the major reason why so few people want to run schools.

The problem here is human nature. No one likes to consider uncomfortable things like the realities of disability unless forced to, but - despite years of legislating against discrimination - disabled people still face barriers. Disabled children are much less likely to gain qualifications and go to university than other young people.

The so-called Disability Equality Duty charges all public bodies actively to promote disability equality by looking to their policies, procedures and services. For schools, this means considering how they can help to ensure that both disabled pupils and staff get a fair crack of the whip by looking at how and what they teach, what special training might be needed, and how they can promote positive attitudes and eliminate discrimination.

Inevitably, this will mean much mindless box-checking and target-speak, not to mention resentment at all the hours it takes up. But it will focus people's thoughts on difficult issues, and sometimes these things just have to be done to get things moving.

Years ago, the now-defunct Inner London Education Authority was reviled and ridiculed for similar initiatives on gender and race, yet the attitudes it was promoting are now mainstream thinking.

Readers' advice

The requirement to produce a Disability Equality Scheme is a chance to bring together all the work schools are already doing on disability. And we need this duty to stop disabled children getting a raw deal in school. Disabled children don't always get the same opportunities as their non-disabled classmates. They are often excluded from school activities such as PE and residential trips, and are more likely to leave with no qualifications.

The duty should not be overly burdensome. To help schools, we have produced a straightforward guide to the duty, clearly setting out what they need to do and how to do it. This is about a fairer society generally, and if we can get it right in schools, we can improve the life chances of disabled people throughout society. The new guidance is at www.dotheduty.org.

Kathleen Jameson, senior disability equality duty officer, Disability Rights Commission

At the school where I am governor, we are embracing this work. It gives us the opportunity to focus on disabled children, while also considering how we can promote equality for parents with disabilities and disabled staff. The duty will help to ensure that our school is truly at the heart of our community and is welcoming for everybody, including disabled people from young children to their grandparents.

Rita Krishna, London

Schools and teachers are now not only expected to teach, but also to be social engineers or surrogate parents and health experts. And then people complain about what goes on in the classroom!

Sarah Bentall-Smith, Bristol

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

I am very puzzled by one recent development in education. On the one hand, GCSE coursework seems to be on the way out; on the other hand, extended essays and theses for sixth-formers seem to be coming in. Do we like and value independent work for schoolchildren, or do we not? Or are we simply in a muddle about this? Enlightenment please.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 23 October, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack of a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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