Schedule 10

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:15 pm on 23rd June 2009.

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Accessibility for disabled pupils

Question proposed, That the schedule be the Tenth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I hope that this will be a brief debate. I have a few quick questions for the Minister. By raising this issue here, we will not have to discuss it under schedule 15. There is a difference between the provisions on the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the education section and the main section of the Bill. In the main section, the duty to make adjustments has three requirements. The first is that somebody is at a substantial disadvantage, and the second relates to physical features. The difference comes with the third, which is to provide an auxiliary aid. Clause 80 in part 6 simply has a duty to make reasonable adjustments that applies to the responsible body of such a school, without those three parts being explained. Effectively, there is a carry-across of existing legislation, which has no current requirement to deal with auxiliary aids.

The issue has been raised with me by the Disability Charities Consortium. When I investigated the matter, the answer given to me was that the reason for the difference in provisions was that schedule 10 provides for accessibility arrangements for pupils in schools. My question to the Minister is simple: given the need to provide for accessibility arrangements in schools and for schools to have a written accessibility plan under which they discuss with their disabled pupils their needs and requirements, will schools, in making those reasonable adjustments, effectively have to consider providing auxiliary aids, even under the education requirement, as the general duty to make adjustments applies in other arenas? That is the question and my reason for raising it now. If I have not been clear, the Solicitor-General should let me know, and I will try again.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

The hon. Gentleman is clear. The development and implementation of an accessibility plan will give a more proactive and strategic approach to facilitating education for disabled pupils and improving the physical environment. Schools and authorities will be able to plan ahead and anticipate a range of disabled pupils’ issues and needs in order to have facilities in place, instead of having to react to one individual situation at a time.

Schools will have to have considered the need for auxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils as part of their responsibilities under the duty. In addition, it is likely that an individual disabled child who required auxiliary aids would fall within the definition of special  educational needs, so the aids would be provided under that regime. We think that it is probably covered more effectively there.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance. The purpose of raising the issue was to put that assurance on the record. I think that I am reassured by her reassurance.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 10 accordingly agreed to.