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Local authority accessibility strategy 2019 to 2022

Introduction

All local authorities must have an accessibility strategy for the schools it's responsible for, for example local authority maintained schools. This is a requirement of law, the Equality Act 2010.

Accessibility strategies don't apply to academies or free schools. However, all schools, including academies and free schools, must have an accessibility plan which is based upon the same principles as an accessibility strategy.

An accessibility strategy explains how over time, the local authority will support the schools it's responsible for in order to:

  • increase access to the curriculum for disabled pupils
  • improve the physical environment of schools to increase access for disabled pupils
  • make written information more accessible to disabled pupils by providing information in a range of different ways

Disability in its broadest sense covers:

  • physical impairments
  • learning difficulties
  • sensory impairments
  • mental impairments

Under the Equality Act, a person has a disability ‘if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities’. 

Whilst the accessibility strategy relates to maintained schools, many of the support arrangements made by the local authority will also benefit disabled pupils attending academies and free schools within Dorset.

This is Dorset Council’s Accessibility Strategy for the period 2019 to 2022. We will revise it as necessary.

Legislation

The requirement to write an accessibility strategy is set out in Schedule 10 of the Equality Act 2010 and specifically relates to pupils with a disability. 

Unlike the rest of the Equality Act which has a focus on equal treatment, the sections relating to disability are different and recognise that a person with a disability may have to be treated more favourably than someone who does not, in order to avoid substantial disadvantage.

Where a school does something that might put a disabled child at a substantial disadvantage compared with those who are not disabled, they must take reasonable steps to avoid that disadvantage. Substantial is anything more than minor or trivial.

Reasonable adjustments

Taking reasonable steps to avoid substantial disadvantage is often known as the ‘reasonable adjustments’ duty. Both local authorities and schools must adhere to this duty. It means taking positive steps to ensure that disabled pupils can fully participate in the education provided by a school and that they can enjoy the other benefits, facilities and services that the school provides for its pupils. 

The reasonable adjustments duty contains three elements:

  • provisions
  • criteria
  • practices, for example day to day operations, including rules and policies, decisions and actions
  • auxiliary aids and services, for example additional support or assistance from a piece of equipment or a member of staff
  • physical features, for example adaptations to buildings

Schools don't have to consider physical features as part of their reasonable adjustments duty. Instead they have a duty to plan better access for disabled pupils generally through their accessibility plan.

The law on reasonable adjustments is anticipatory; it requires local authorities and schools to consider the needs of potential disabled pupils in addition to those already attending the school.

Failure to make a reasonable adjustment is a form of discrimination under the Equality Act.

Public Sector Equality Duty

In addition to meeting the specific requirement set out in Schedule 10 of the Equality Act, this accessibility strategy will also help Dorset Council meet the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) with regard to disabled pupils.

The PSED applies to all protected characteristics:

  • race
  • disability
  • sex
  • age
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • gender reassignment

The PSED requires public bodies to understand the need to:

  • eliminate discrimination and other conduct that is prohibited by the Act
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
  • foster good relations across all characteristics between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it

Vision

The barriers that people with a disability can experience in everyday life are explored in the music video I Can’t Get To You, a collaboration between People First Dorset, Activate Arts, Pageant Productions and Big Little Music.

Dorset wants to remove such barriers by improving outcomes for disabled pupils. Dorset’s vision is set out in the Special Educational Needs & Disability (SEND) Strategy 2018-21 (Dorset Council):

Children and young people in Dorset with SEND are happy and enjoy their education and social life. They and their families trust and have confidence in the support they receive.

We work together to give children and young people with SEND in Dorset the best chance to succeed; enjoy family life and go to school as close to home as possible.

Together we support children and young people with SEND to maximise their potential at home, in the early years, at school and at college and to prepare well for adulthood.

Our young adults with SEND have opportunities to work, live independently, participate fully in their community and live full, healthy lives.

To achieve this, Dorset Council will:

  • work with the schools for which it is responsible to ensure they do not disadvantage or discriminate against a disabled pupil; it will also offer advice to other schools, such as academies and free schools, on meeting this legal duty
  • work closely with schools and school governors to agree reasonable adjustments which will allow disabled pupils full access to school facilities and activities
  • work together with all settings and other services, such as health, to identify and plan for the needs of disabled pupils more generally.

Local context

Dorset is a rural shire county with 17 main towns and countryside between. About 20% of schools are in isolated communities with limited public transport. In April 2019, one of these towns will be joining a neighbouring authority as part of a Local Government Reorganisation process.

All local authority maintained schools have been supported through previous building projects to prepare for basic accessibility needs. School governing bodies in liaison with Dorset Property and their Property Surveyors have been delegated the responsibility of ensuring school sites are accessible as specified in Schedule 10 of the Equality Act 2010.

Where possible, children and young people with physical and sensory difficulties are educated at their local school, with local authority maintained schools adapted as necessary.

Dorset also has a number of specialist provisions for children and young people with SEND. This currently includes 5 special schools and a range of specialist resourced provisions catering for a variety of needs. Dorset continues to adapt and develop local provision through the SEN Provision Review, which specifically addresses the needs of children and young people within the area. There are also a number of partnership special schools in neighbouring authorities. All Dorset special schools offer outreach support to mainstream schools.

Travel arrangements represent a geographical and financial challenge for the Local Authority. Personal Travel Budgets (PTBs) have been explored as a means to address this issue; PTBs are a sum of money paid to parents or carers of children or young people with SEND who qualify for free school transport. PTBs let families decide how their child will travel to and from school and they are free to make arrangements which suit their needs. For those cases where a PTB is not suitable, the SEN Transport Policy and our commissioning arrangements set an expectation that local transport providers source a range of accessible vehicles and that, subject to risk assessment, passenger assistants be made available.

Implementing the strategy

Through the work of this strategy, Dorset Council will work with the schools for which it is responsible to: 

  • increase access to the curriculum for disabled pupils
  • improve the physical environment of schools to increase access for disabled pupils
  • make written information more accessible to disabled pupils by providing information in a range of different ways

How we will achieve this

By increasing access to the curriculum

We, as the local authority(LA) will:

  • support school leaders, including SENCOs, in relation to policies, strategies and systems available through the LA
  • provide a Local Offer of services and provision that is available to children and young people with SEND
  • offer CPD opportunities for school staff to support and enhance the understanding of accessibility in the curriculum
  • provide opportunities for governor training in relation to increasing access to the curriculum
  • fund an outreach service to enable mainstream schools to better support children with disabilities, learning through the experience of special schools
  • develop an LA policy and associated guidance for all schools about supporting pupils with medical conditions
  • provide opportunities for SENCOs to regularly meet, share good practice and keep up to date with new developments
  • allocate funding for ICT and specialist equipment for individual children in line with LA policy
  • make sure that education, health and care (EHC) plans are specific about the provision required to make the school curriculum more accessible for individual pupils with a disability
  • encourage liaison between early years settings and schools to ensure good transition
  • provide opportunities for capacity building in schools through advice and support available via specialist teaching and advisory services
  • encourage high aspirations for the most vulnerable learners

Schools will:

  • have regard to national and local guidance on meeting the duties set out in the Equality Act 2010 and the Children and Families Act 2014 with regard to SEND
  • include improvements that increase access to the curriculum in their accessibility plan and ensure this is published on their school website
  • plan for and teach children with SEND through a range of interventions and teaching strategies
  • have regard to delivering the curriculum that includes quality first teaching and where appropriate, catch-up programmes and appropriate support for vulnerable children
  • establish effective ways of assessing and monitoring the progress of vulnerable groups
  • evaluate outcomes of provision and adapt this accordingly
  • make sure there's effective support for vulnerable children in transition
  • apply funding appropriately to make sure vulnerable groups are not disadvantaged in comparison to non-vulnerable groups
  • provide effective professional development for staff and governors
  • involve parents and carers in decision making and keep them informed of progress

By increasing access to the physical environment

We, as the LA will:

  • plan new buildings and significant extensions or adaptations that comply with accessibility requirement
  • facilitate the access of individual pupils with  physical or sensory impairments, or complex medical conditions, where required
  • ensure that LA staff work with the School Admissions and/or SEN Team to assist with issues regarding individual placements
  • commission audits to advise on the required adaptations and additional resources needed to accommodate pupils with physical or sensory impairments or complex medical conditions
  • make sure education, health and care (EHC) plans are specific about the adaptations required to make the school environment more accessible for individual pupils with a disability
  • continue to review existing provision of buildings other than schools that the local authority is responsible for, for example Children’s Centres so that they comply with the latest accessibility legislation and requirements
  • set expected levels of funding that local authority-maintained schools will be expected to contribute towards schemes that improve the physical environment
  • monitor transition arrangements for children coming into schools for the first time and those moving across school phases
  • liaise with schools that have buildings under local authority control to support and fund adaptations that go beyond the threshold funding arrangements

Schools will:

  • keep the physical accessibility of the school building and site under review and make timely arrangements to accommodate access
  • include improvements that increase access to the physical environment in an accessibility plan that is published on the school website
  • comply with the anticipatory duties as set by the Equality Act 2010
  • respond to the expectations set out in local and national guidance on meeting the Equality Act 2010 and Children and Families Act 2014 with regard to SEND
  • fund projects that increase access to the physical environment from their own resources and, where appropriate, to liaise with the LA
  • adhere to the specific guidance contained within this accessibility strategy
  • undertake any improvement projects in liaison with their property surveyors and adhere to building regulations and health and safety requirements
  • apply advice provided through environmental audits conducted by occupational and physiotherapists, Hearing or Vision Support Officers, and other relevant services or professionals
  • make sure curriculum needs are met by providing access to appropriate classroom facilities
  • carry out risk assessments for school trips to make sure they're accessible for pupils with mobility, sensory or medical difficulties
  • provide effective professional development for staff and governors
  • involve parents and carers in decision making and keep them informed of progress

Increasing access to information

We, as the LA will:

  • offer governor training that covers the requirements of an accessibility plan and the specific need to increase access to information
  • provide information to schools electronically and via a training website (Nexus) regarding accessibility for disabled pupils
  • provide information to pupils and their families in accessible formats whenever needed
  • provide advice to schools and maintained settings from its Specialist Teaching and Advice Services about how best to support children and young people with accessing information, for example, the Hearing and Vision Support Services offer a range of support from signing to Braille
  • make sure education, health and care (EHC) plans are specific about the provision required to make information to all pupils more accessible for individual pupils with a disability
  • make sure any new buildings or extensions to building are appropriately signed in line with accessibility and health and safety requirements

Schools will:

  • include improvements that increase access to information for disabled pupils in their accessibility plan that's published on the school website
  • make sure they're proactive in researching and using a range of communication techniques and technologies, seeking the advice of relevant professionals where necessary
  • monitor and review the skills and expertise of staff to support pupils with disabilities
  • involve pupils and their families in decision processes regarding the accessibility of information

Funding

Funding to support this accessibility strategy is available through a variety of means. 

Schools receive funding through a delegated budget for all pupils in the school according to their characteristics, based on the number at the October School Census. This provides funding for general costs within the school but also provides a notional SEN budget which enables them to provide additional support for those pupils that need it, of up to £6,000 per pupil, per year. These are known as Element 1 and Element 2 funding.

Schools should use these monies to implement the requirements of this Accessibility Strategy, particularly in terms of increasing access to the curriculum and when making written information more accessible.

There is a third element of funding available to schools for pupils who have additional needs costing over £6,000 per year; this is known as top-up funding. In most cases, schools receive this funding through the Dorset SEN Funding Banding framework and this element is usually only provided for pupils with education, health and care (EHC) plans, although there are exceptional circumstances.

Dorset Council provides a range of services to work with schools to support pupils with SEN and disabilities. Some of these are funded through a centrally retained budget funded via top-up funding and are therefore available to schools free of charge. Some are available on a traded basis and schools should use their existing funding mechanisms to access these, in order to meet the requirements of this accessibility strategy, particularly in terms of increasing access to the curriculum and when making written information more accessible. 

Funding is also available from the LA for some items of ICT and specialist equipment, in line with the ICT and specialist equipment entitlement policy for children and young people with SEND (Dorset County Council, Sep 2018). 

In terms of improving the physical environment of schools for which the LA is responsible, funding is available from the Schools Access Initiative (SAI). This is for significant adaptations for pupils with physical and sensory difficulties, and those with complex medical conditions. A budget is set aside on an annual basis to deal with accessibility issues as they arise.  The SAI funding covers buildings and fixed items. Schools are expected to fund minor works costing less than £2,500.

Projects are allocated on a needs-led basis, usually having been identified by a relevant practitioner in health, such as an occupational Therapist or physiotherapist, or within the Hearing or Vision Support Services in a report detailing the adaptations that are required. A visit is then carried out by a premises officer and property surveyor to agree the best way of meeting these needs, taking into account the nature of the building and the practicality of adapting it. A wider view of the use of the premises is also considered, to ensure that any adaptation will not create a hazard or safety issue for other users. Advice and guidance is given to the school to highlight any minor amendments they can make to their use or management of the premises.

Where a major project is identified, the premises officer will engage the services of an architect or project surveyor to draw up options that will meet the needs of the child.  The premises officer and architect then discuss the options with the school and the relevant health or other practitioner to ensure the most suitable solution is provided, before a contractor is engaged to carry out the works.

Where the LA approves a package of works, it will commission and pay for the work directly.

Dorset Council is committed to ensuring equal access to education for all. However, it also has a duty to utilise its resources in the most effective manner. This means that adjustments cannot automatically be authorised, especially if they entail significant expenditure.

We expect that where a school has been partially adapted to accommodate pupils with a disability, it is reasonable for the school to carefully timetable the curriculum to ensure adapted rooms are utilised. There should be no expectation that additional rooms will be adapted for this purpose. If works are undertaken by the LA to meet the needs of a child in a particular year group, this will be reviewed as the child moves through the school, and further works will be carried out if appropriate and reasonable.

Examples of work we've undertaken

These are examples of recent works undertaken by the LA in line with this accessibility strategy.

Increasing access to the curriculum

Adapting PE lessons for a pupil with a visual impairment:

The Vision Support Service (VSS) worked with a secondary school to adapt the PE curriculum for a pupil who is registered blind. They suggested modifications such as the use of a tether and a guide for supported running and swimming and recommended alternative activities, such as Boccia, Goal Ball and Blind football.

Modifying the curriculum for a pupil with specific learning difficulties:

The Special Educational Needs Specialist Service (SENSS) provided guidance on adapting the curriculum for a pupil with dyslexia who had just started secondary school. Training was delivered to all the pupil’s teachers on understanding his learning profile and on ways to modify the curriculum. These included pre-teaching vocabulary, visual prompts, providing brief instructions and in small chunks, the use of mind maps, talking books and allowing extra time for processing.

Improving the physical environment

Acoustic improvements for pupils with a hearing impairment:

The Hearing Support Service (HSS) provided an access report, highlighting improvements that could be made to relevant areas of a local primary school to improve the acoustics for a number of pupils with a hearing impairment. The premises officer and property surveyor visited the school to consider the recommendations, and following this it was agreed to install acoustic panelling in several locations and some vertical blinds were fitted.  The cost of this adaptation was met from the SAI budget.

Remodelling of toileting facilities for a pupil with physical difficulties:

The occupational therapist and premises officer jointly considered the requirements of a pupil with physical difficulties starting in reception. The pupil was dependent on adult support for toileting and it was identified that the existing facilities would not accommodate the specialist equipment and staff required for these tasks. As there were sufficient toilets within the school, it was agreed to remove some of the cubicles to make an accessible toilet with hoisting and changing facilities. This was funded by the SAI budget.

Making written information more accessible

Providing information in enlarged print for a pupil with a visual impairment:

The VSS Advisory Teachers carried out a functional vision assessment on a pupil with low vision to determine the optimum font size for them. They provided training for the school on how to modify written materials successfully, not simply by enlarging on a photocopier.

VSS also provided the pupil with a tablet device with a camera which can capture an image and convert it into clear large print, making the pupil less reliant on adult support.

Providing easy-read guidance on the Local Offer:

The LA is leading by example, by making sure all pages of Dorset’s Local Offer conform to GOV.UK writing for the web guidelines. This means using plain English and writing to the reading age of a 9 year old.

The LA has also encouraged schools to produce their SEN Information Reports along these lines, by providing guidance documents about this. SEN Information Reports are accessible via each school record of the Family Information Directory.

Monitoring and review

It is the duty of all those working within local authority maintained schools and Dorset Council on areas associated with accessibility to ensure that this strategy is implemented and adhered to.

A termly ACCESS Panel monitors children and young people with physical, sensory and medical needs who are transferring into a school, either for the first time or due to their age, to ensure that the new school environment is accessible for them and can accommodate their specific support requirements, through physical adaptations to the school building.

This panel is made up of specialists from LA services, for example:

  • Hearing Support Services
  • Vision Support Services
  • Portage
  • Physical and Medical Needs Service
  • premises
  • Special Educational Needs
  • school admissions teams
  • health services, for example, occupational therapy and physiotherapy

The ACCESS Panel monitors the progress of physical adaptations whether these are undertaken by the school, the LA for the schools that it maintains (for adaptations costing over £2,500), or where appropriate, by an academy trust or the Diocese.

Early notification of potential access issues by schools is especially important so as to ensure that the Local Authority can provide a timely response that meets the needs of both the school and pupil(s) in question.

All schools and academies must publish an accessibility plan on their website which must comply with the statutory duties as detailed in Schedule 10 of the Equality Act 2010. The Local Authority has provided a model accessibility plan for schools that can be adapted and adopted by governing bodies for this purpose.

The senior manager of the 0 to 25 SEND Assessment Team will keep this accessibility strategy under review; updating every 3 years or sooner if required. 

January 2019

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