Planning improvements for disabled pupils' access to education: guidance for education authorities, independent and grant-aided schools

Guidance to support responsible bodies in the development and maintenance of accessibility strategies.

Chapter 4: Procedures for local authorities

1. This Chapter outlines issues to be considered by education authorities in preparing accessibility strategies. The report [30] published in 2003 by ( HMIE) and the Disability Rights Commission ( DRC) highlighted good practice in preparing accessibility strategies. That advice remains relevant and is incorporated in the following paragraphs. Local authorities will also find useful advice contained in the Handbook on Accessibility [31] published by the Scottish Council for Independent Schools and available as a free download.


2. Local authorities have considerable experience of strategic planning. For example, local authorities are used to developing local improvement plans and integrated children's services plans. It is expected that a local authority's accessibility strategy will form part of its overall improvement plan. However, where an accessibility strategy is incorporated into another plan, it should still be clear, easily identifiable and extractable as an accessibility strategy within that plan so that it is available for reference. Where local authorities, as part of the Community Planning Partnership, are developing plans and developing approaches to report on wellbeing, as set out in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, they may wish to consider how the accessibility strategy fits within this planning framework.

3. The accessibility strategy has to cover a period of 3 years from date of completion of the immediately previous strategy.

4. Individual local authority schools are not required to prepare accessibility strategies. However, it is expected that individual school improvement plans or school development plans will take account of their local authority's local improvement plan and, where appropriate, will refer to the authority's accessibility strategy.

5. Similarly, a school's standards and quality report which is integral to self-evaluation and to the process of school improvement will build on the audit section of the school development plan and will set out how well the school is doing and what the school needs to do next. These standards and quality reports can, in turn, inform the local authority's accessibility strategy.

All schools will include accessibility to all aspects of school life and pupil development within their School Improvement Plans. School handbooks will be amended to include reference to the Accessibility Strategy and increased information for parents about the strategy will be made available. Additional Continuing Professional development opportunities will be offered to all school staff on specific disabilities, disability legislation and wider accessibility issues.

Extract from an Accessibility Strategy

6. Local authority accessibility strategies do not need to cover pre-school education provided by private or voluntary sector providers operating in partnership with the local authority. Nevertheless, local authorities will wish to have regard to their own duty to promote disability equality when negotiating contracts with private and voluntary sector providers and may wish to ensure that disabled children have access to these provisions, as discussed in Chapter 3 (paragraph 7).

Stages in preparing strategies

7. The flow chart at Appendix G outlines the stages in preparing accessibility strategies.

Planning group

8. Local authorities will likely have a planning group to prepare and develop the accessibility strategy. The planning group should not just involve education officials, although of course they are likely to take the lead in developing the strategy. It is up to each local authority to decide who is likely to be able to make a valuable input as part of the planning group. Participants may include or involve: access officers/officers in charge of disability access across the authority, quality improvement officers, pre-school co-ordinators, educational psychologists, officials from the buildings/capital investment department, social work services, head teachers and others from outwith the authority, such as: local health professionals/therapists, design professionals, parents' group/forum representatives, third sector organisations or disabled pupils. Dundee City Council's Access and Inclusion Advisory Group [32] comprised a group drawn from the above.

Audit and review of accessibility

9. Local authorities will have carried out audits of accessibility since the Act came into force in 2002. School inspection reports provide evidence of accessibility, in general, which will inform local authority accessibility strategies. In addition local authorities are likely to have audited accessibility directly themselves using their own specifically designed audit tools, for example How good is our school? [33] , and The Child at the Centre [34] for early years provision.

10. Any audit or review exercise undertaken should not be restricted to considerations of physical access but will cover the three planning duties. In addressing the three duties the strategy should look at wider considerations. These might include the need for staff training, the need for additional space/rooms for pupils with disabilities, the availability of teaching materials in alternative formats, the use of inclusive teaching methods and schools' experiences of and attitudes towards pupils with disabilities and inclusion.

11. Given the extended definition of disability discrimination introduced by the Equality Act responsible bodies may wish to address staff awareness through continuous professional development.

Consulting with key stakeholders

12. Consultation with key stakeholders is an important part of the audit process because it provides evidence of their views on accessibility. The key stakeholders to be considered are the service providers, the service users and third sector organisations (who may be providers and may also represent service users).

13. Authorities should consult with staff in their own schools including those providing education on Gypsy/Traveller sites. They will also consult with partner agencies involved with property services, social work services and NHS Boards and particularly with Allied Health Professionals such as Occupational therapists and Speech and Language therapists who have expertise in physical accessibility and in communication, respectively.

14. Authorities should consult with disabled and non-disabled pupils, and their parents, taking a proactive approach to ensure that the diversity of children's additional support needs is addressed to include disabled pupils from a range of minority ethnic communities and from Gypsy/Traveller communities and their parents. For example, Dundee City Council [35] used Scotland's national intranet for education, Glow [36] , to sample the views of almost 600 pupils, across a range of nationalities, to inform the development of their accessibility strategy.

15. Local authorities may also want to work with local Further Education colleges to improve pupils' access to the curriculum while they are on link placements at a college.

16. Planning groups should consider how their accessibility strategy is addressing access for children with disabilities to services provided in schools by other groups, such as parents' groups providing out of school care on a voluntary basis.

Drafting the strategy

17. Appendix C includes a template of suggested headings which could be included in an accessibility strategy. Quality is more important than quantity in drafting an accessibility strategy and the focus should be on outcomes, emphasising what will be improved as a result of the strategy, rather than producing a lengthy document. When they start to draft the strategy, the planning group should have information about all the barriers or potential barriers to participation for disabled pupils. These may be barriers in individual schools or pre-school provision, or barriers to education provided to children on Gypsy/Traveller sites, or they may be common areas for improvement in all or most of the schools in the authority's area, such as continuing professional development needs.

18. The accessibility strategy should [37] :

  • be about actual outcomes
  • have a strategic focus - with a manageable and meaningful number of key outcomes, supported by robust measures
  • be evidence-based
  • demonstrate effective collaboration with key stakeholders
  • be capable of delivery - it should show a clear line of sight to supporting plans and activities including the necessary resources to deliver the outcomes, as required by the Act
  • promote continuous improvement - it should identify any further work needed to deliver improved services

Setting targets

19. The targets in the strategy should be SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-related- so that it is clear what outcomes will be achieved and when.

Further consultation/finalise strategy

20. Local authorities should consult as widely as possible on their draft strategies, especially if they have carried out a limited initial consultation. Information about reasons why certain improvements have been made a priority and why other proposals may have not been included should be outlined in the accessibility strategy. This will assist those who are being consulted (or who may be reading the strategy after it has been finalised) in understanding why certain proposals have been prioritised above others.

21. Interested groups and individuals should be consulted either directly or indirectly. The local authority should ask some or all head teachers or parent councils to consult groups of pupils, parents and school staff directly. Schools should consult as widely as possible. The local authority should ensure that head teachers and parent councils are clear about the legislation, what the strategy is for and what it can and cannot do before they consult their staff, pupils, parents and others. This is important as parents naturally may have high expectations and are likely to want what is best for their own child. Head teachers and parent councils and the planning group need to ensure that parents and others are aware that the accessibility strategy will not necessarily bring forward major changes overnight, but instead will lead to a gradual programme of longer-term improvements.

22. Schools should involve all their staff, not just teaching staff, and should remember to consult a wide range of pupils. This should not only be disabled pupils as those who are not disabled may also have views and relevant ideas to contribute. Similarly, the school should seek to involve a wide range of parents and carers, not only those who have disabled children or those who are always involved in school activities.

23. It is important that staff are not just told about the strategy, but that they are able to give their views at this stage. This should ensure that everyone 'buys into' the strategy, which is vital in the case of school staff who will have to implement many of the changes and ensure that these are effective. The planning group must be prepared to revise the draft strategy in light of the consultation exercise.

24. Consultation might take the form of an open meeting or meetings/ seminars to discuss the strategy, focus groups, a written or web consultation asking for comments on the strategy or ad hoc telephone calls and small discussions, asking for advice on particular points, etc. The group should ensure that any consultation is accessible to everyone with an interest, including pupils or parents with disabilities or those from minority ethnic backgrounds, where, for example, English is not their first language. Therefore, special arrangements should be in place to support those pupils or parents who may otherwise find it difficult to give their views.

25. Planning groups may involve or consult with the following, either formally or informally:

  • schools and nursery schools, their staff and parents/carers
  • a sample of pupils
  • specialist teachers and inclusion co-ordinators/network support
  • parent councils
  • local parents' groups
  • local councillors
  • the Council's Education/Children's Services Committee
  • local childcare partnerships and pre-school joint assessment teams
  • NHS Boards/Trusts: health professionals - therapists, doctors, school nurses
  • social work services
  • relevant national and local third sector organisations
  • equality groups ( e.g. local Gypsy/Traveller groups) as necessary
  • architects and/or other design professionals
  • ICT professionals
  • out of school clubs and others who use school premises


26. Once the strategy has been prepared and revised as necessary following consultation, it then needs to be implemented. It is for local authorities to decide how implementation will be progressed and monitored but it is most likely that an officer within the education authority will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the strategy and for reporting back to the planning/ implementation group.


27. Strategies should be readily available preferably on the council's website as is the case for example, for the strategies prepared by Dundee City Council [38] . As discussed in Chapter 2 (paragraph 14) strategies must be made available in alternative formats if requested. Although there is no requirement to produce Easy Read versions, responsible bodies may wish to, as part of broader plans for Accessibility of information.


28. The planning/implementation group will need to review the strategy at regular intervals during its lifespan but, at a minimum, the planning group should meet formally once every year to review progress in implementing the strategy. If necessary, the accessibility strategy may need to be revised following a review. Revisions may be needed, for example, if certain expected improvements are found not to have been successful and a different approach is needed, or where changing circumstances mean that a new priority emerges.

29. Towards the end of the three year period the group will evaluate how successful the strategy has been. The evaluation should include an assessment of whether the targets have been met and also whether there has been a qualitative improvement in access to education for disabled pupils. The group should also ask stakeholders, including school staff, pupils and parents, to evaluate progress which has been made.

Some examples of increased access to the curriculum

Assistive technology (such as: touch-screen computers, interactive whiteboards, text-to-speech software) is employed to support individual children's additional support needs to promote independent learning

Specialist software to ensure the compatibility of home and school IT systems, and to facilitate the transfer of homework from school to home for visually impaired children

Extract from: Accessibility Strategy 2009-2012 [39]

Dundee City Council

30. This evaluation should give the local authority a clear picture of what has worked well, what has not worked well and where further improvements are needed. This information should then form the basis of the development of the accessibility strategy for the following three year period. The local authority should then go through a similar process of consultation in developing the next strategy. The next strategy should start immediately after the previous one ends.

Possible checklist for preparing and implementing an accessibility strategy

Planning group set up/individuals to take the lead identified

Decisions taken as to how and where the accessibility strategy will fit into other planning frameworks and service delivery plans

Audit carried out of existing accessibility of provision

Initial consultation with schools and experts carried out

Early discussions held with other agencies and organisations about joint improvements which might be taken forward

Short, medium and long-term priorities identified and accessibility strategy drafted

Sources of funding identified for taking forward measures identified in the strategy

Goals and targets set for progress during the period of the strategy

Any further consultation carried out with a wide range of interested groups

Arrangements made for implementing the strategy

Accessibility strategy finalised and placed on local authority website

Progress monitored and reviewed regularly, with the strategy revised where necessary

Progress evaluated towards the end of the period of the strategy in order to inform the priorities for the next accessibility strategy


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