Accessibility and support

Under the Disability Discrimination Act, education providers have a duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' to meet the needs of disabled students. Find out more about the legal definition and examples of 'reasonable adjustments'.

When deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable, education providers can consider issues such as the cost of the adjustment, the interests of other students, health and safety factors and whether academic standards are maintained.

In general, however, education providers are not required to make changes to buildings to make them accessible or provide specialist equipment and support. But the legislation does include a duty to provide auxiliary aids and services and a duty to remove or alter a physical feature.

Some examples of reasonable adjustments for education providers might be:

  • providing a student with learning difficulties with additional support in her written work so that she can achieve her NVQ or SVQ qualification;
  • ensuring that a partially sighted learner receives handouts in large print;
  • arranging for sign language interpretation in lectures for a deaf student; or
  • installing a lift to enable students who are wheelchair users to access classrooms or lecture rooms above the ground floor.

Education providers are expected to anticipate these kinds of adjustments: you should plan ahead so that you can meet the needs of disabled people who may become students at a later date, rather than waiting until a disabled pupil has arrived before making adjustments, as you may find yourself already in breach of the law. The key tests are that policies, procedures and practices do not lead directly to less favourable treatment or substantial disadvantage, and that they provide a school with the flexibility required to respond to individual needs as they arise.

Find out more from the Teachernet website about how education providers can promote equality of opportunity for pupils and staff with disabilities, and develop future accessibility plans.

Pupils with special educational needs

A pupil with special educational needs (referred to as additional support needs in Scotland) is defined as a pupil who:

  • has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of pupils of their age
  • has a disability which means that they cannot make full use of the general educational facilities provided for pupils of their age.

A pupil with special educational needs is entitled to receive full-time education that is appropriate to their needs. In the first place, this should normally be provided, where possible, by the school. The basic level of extra help is known as school action (in England and Wales), and could be:

  • a different way of teaching certain things
  • some extra help from an adult, or
  • using particular equipment, such as a computer, software or a special desk.

If this does not provide enough support, schools should discuss with the parents the possibility of getting the child to take a statutory assessment. It is the responsibility of the local authority to arrange this assessment.

After the assessment, the local authority can then make a statement of special educational needs for the pupil, if appropriate. This will state what the child's special educational needs are, and recommend the best way to meet them. It is then up to schools to work with the local authority to provide education that meets the child's needs. In Scotland, education authorities produce a coordinated support plan (as opposed to a statement) for any child with additional support needs.

Parents who think their children may have special education needs are allowed to ask the local authority education department to assess the child to find out what help he or she might need to get an appropriate education. If the child is already in school, parents are encouraged to discuss this with the child's teacher. Similarly, teachers who believe a child may have special educational needs are encouraged to tell the child's parents.

In England and Wales, this applies to children and young people between the ages of two and 19. In Scotland, this applies to children and young people up to the age of 17 who are still in school education.


If a pupil cannot attend school because of pregnancy, the local authority still has a duty to provide suitable alternative education.

A pupil who becomes pregnant is entitled to 18 calendar weeks' authorised absence to cover the time immediately before and after the birth of the child.

The school's aim should be to keep the pregnant pupil or school age mother in learning. This means keeping the pupil on the school roll, even if she may not be able to attend for a period of time, keeping up to date with her progress and finding a suitable time to re-integrate her into the school.

If a student cannot attend college or university because of pregnancy, in general the college or university will be expected to keep the student's place available. The student should not be penalised in any way and should be able to continue with the course in the future.

Any credits they have already achieved should still count towards a final qualification.


If a pupil cannot attend school because of sickness or injury, the local education authority must arrange suitable education. This may be in hospital schools or hospital teaching units, or tuition at home.

All children admitted to hospital for more than five working days have a right to properly planned education.

If a child is absent from school for 15 or more consecutive working days, the local authority or education authority may assess their needs. The school may then provide work for the child to do at home, or the local authority or education authority may provide home-visiting teachers.

Last Updated: 02 Jul 2009