I absolutely support the rights of parents to send their disabled children to mainstream school education.
In this article I want to look at the logistical challenges that face schools when they admit a disabled child.
Types of disability:
In supporting parents right to choose mainstream education for any disabled child engages the school chosen in a conversation as to how the needs of the child may be best provided.
There are of course many types of disability and therefore it follows that the nature of the provision will also be just as varied.
Whatever the disability there will need to be arrangements made by the school in order to provide not only for the needs of the child concerned but also in the provision of the educational delivery and possibly content.
- The simplest and easiest to accommodate are for those children who have (what I am going to term comparatively) minor disabilities. These may be hearing impairment requiring the use of hearing aids and also those with slight to moderate sight problems. These can be accommodated usually quite easily in class and school where positioning in class to allow for better sound reception and improved / closer vision may be achieved. For some pupils this may be extended to teachers wearing small microphones and the pupil having sound receiving links to their hearing aids. By linking closely with parents and staff being aware of such things as battery changes in hearing aids or how to use magnification equipment then this level of disability is usually quite easily managed.
- Children with mobility disabilities that require the use of crutches are again quite easily managed in school. There is often associated medical equipment such as leg callipers or knee assistors. In such a situation staff training in both the use and fitting of equipment and possibly safe and correct handling may also be required. In the classroom the child may require a different desk and chair to provide comfort and also ease of sitting and standing.
Playtimes are not usually a problem but there are some activities that may require T.A support – such a P.E and special arrangements will have to be made for swimming if applicable.
The above examples and any additional examples of this sort of nature and severity are usually accommodated in schools quite easily with a few changes made or training given. Purchases are usually minimal and within the budgets of most schools.
Dealing with more severe disabilities in school:
Again we support the wishes of parents to send their disabled child to a mainstream school – in some cases this may even be against professional medical and educational advice.
In such situations, the school has to become actively involved in conversations with both the Parents and the Local Authority / Academy Group.
Severe disability brings a raft of needs that the school now has to manage and this, more often than not needs planning, costing and managing.
Staffing: Staff implications need to be identified immediately in order that arrangements may be made. Severe disability in children usually brings with it a full SEN support budget which allows for a full time member of staff. However in addition to appointing the member of staff there are also the factors of experience and possibly training needed. In most cases this training will have to be provided by medial professionals. Additional arrangements need also to be made to involve additional staff members to be trained in the event of absence and also to cover for lunchtime breaks. Dependent on the needs of the pupil it may be that 2 members of trained staff will be needed to perform certain tasks such as toileting or exercise movement at times during the day.
Equipment: The most common additional equipment seen in schools are wheelchairs – however many disabled children have more than 1 chair and some may be motorised. Staff, again need training in how to move children from chair to chair and also in the basic set up and adjustment of equipment. There may also be specialised mobile play toys for the very young children.
In the classroom, for children with cerebral palsy there are standing frames to allow the child to be upright for medical and social reasons and again this is to be T.A assisted.
Medical beds and lifting hoists are also required for many children – these are associated with personal washing, toileting and basic physio treatments that may be needed at regular intervals.
In some cases for hearing impaired children there may be a requirement for the installation of a hearing loop in school….just as an information fact – the last basic hearing loop I had installed in a school was £10,000.
I am sure there are many other pieces of equipment that are necessary for the disabilities seen in children – the above, I think, covers the most commonly seen.
Storage and accommodation: Of course the arrival of all this equipment brings with it the problem of storage. They are of sufficient size and number that they can’t rationally be left in corridors and so a room has to be found where they can be stored. Dependent on the size of your school this will either be an easy problem to solve or alternatively a large headache. The room also needs certified charging capabilities for, at times, several chairs.
The other requirement is for a private room where a medical bed can be placed complete with lifting equipment and toileting facilities. This is a pretty major building alteration for a school and will require both funding and planning assistance from the Local Authority or Academy group. There is also the question of “where does it go?”….the fact of having nowhere available is not acceptable and so can cause large problems for some schools.
Altering your school: Yes this is going to happen and it will be major even if you have only 1 disabled child in a wheelchair. Let’s consider the following….
- Classroom organisation – teachers will have to make layout changes to accommodate wheelchair users. This will involve using special height tables for wheelchairs or dependent on the nature of the disability and as such the chair there may be needed a completely specialised desk. Teachers will also need to make arrangements for the movement space around the classroom either for educational / inclusion purposes or for pupil needs removal by T.A’s.
- In an unmodified school NO wheelchairs will go through the doors! So the school now has to have all the doorways changed to become wider and as such wider doors fitted. However if you are involved in this do keep an eye on the width of standing frames as I do know of 1 school that widened all the doors for wheelchairs and then found afterwards that the standing frames would not go through! This also applies to fire exits and emergency escape routes.
- Around the school – the outside areas will also need consideration to allow motorised wheelchairs to move freely. If the school has paths they should be level and flat – there should also be easy access to other areas of the school such as gardens and wildlife areas.
- Car parks – in the event that children have to be transported to school it will be necessary for schools to ensure that the transport can be brought as near to the school entrance as possible and that movement into the school is disability friendly.
Planning and costs:
As a school you will be involved at all levels in preparation for a disabled pupil. It will need the involvement of the governing body and the senior leadership team of the school in the preparation.
The alterations and modifications, do, of course, vary according to the disability of the pupils concerned but anything involving more serious impairments will require major school alterations so be prepared for this.
It is very unlikely that your school will be expected to take a disabled child without having sufficient time to prepare. Obviously if the school needs alteration then good old “health and safety regs” would prevent the child from attending as would the training for staff which is a vital requirement. As a Headteacher, I would actually refuse to accept any child prior to having all necessary requirements in place. Don’t be hassled by your local authority as it would be the school in the firing line is anything did go wrong….so tell your LA to make alternative provision until you are ready!
So there you have it…an overview of the logistical considerations for schools with disabled pupils. Once again this is only my personal experience but I hope it has given you some insight into the basic considerations that you have to consider.
Disabled children are a joy and inspiration to have in school and we are happy to welcome them into our school communities.