Reasonable adjustments for schools in a time of pandemic

Schools have had a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils since amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 came into force in 2001.  These duties were later expanded to include “auxiliary aids and services”.  The phrase “reasonable adjustments” is fairly well known by now, but prompts the question – “what is reasonable?” and specifically, what might be regarded as reasonable in the particular circumstances of a global pandemic crisis.

Overview of the legal framework

Part 6, Chapter 1 of the Equality Act 2010 is the part of the Act which applies to schools.  It applies to all schools in Scotland, i.e. public schools (those managed by a local authority); independent schools; and grant-aided schools (those receiving specific direct Scottish Government funding).

The legal duties rest with the responsible body for the school.  In the case of public schools, this is the local authority as a whole – an important point when the discussion turns to funding and resources.  For independent or grant-aided schools, the managing body (e.g. a board of trustees or SCIO) is the responsible body.

The Equality Act 2010 applies across all nine “protected characteristics”, but there are two types of discrimination which only apply in relation to disability.  These are the reasonable adjustments duty (Section 20) and discrimination arising from disability (Section 15).

Reasonable adjustments

In the case of disabled pupils and schools, it is only the first and third requirements of the reasonable adjustments duty which applies.

The first requirement arises where a “provision, criterion or practice” (PCP) places a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage.  The requirement is to take reasonable steps to avoid that disadvantage.  The EHRC’s Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland gives the example of a school policy forbidding the use of external USB devices with school computers.  In the example the school amends the policy so that a disabled pupil can be given a login that will allow him to attach an adapted keyboard in class. (para 6.9)

The third requirement arises where, without an “auxiliary aid or service,” a disabled person would be at a substantial disadvantage.  The requirement is to take reasonable steps to provide the auxiliary aid or service in question.  The Technical Guidance gives the example of a school providing a coloured plastic overlay sheet for a pupil with dyslexia.

The second requirement concerns substantial disadvantage which may arise because of a physical feature.  The schools duties do not include a requirement to remove or alter physical features of the school for disabled pupils.  However, there is a planning duty contained in the Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils’ Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002 which requires responsible bodies for schools to set out their plans to improve access (including physical access) to the school, on a three year cycle.

Discrimination arising from disability

This type of discrimination occurs where a disabled pupil has been treated unfavourably, because of something “arising in consequence of” pupil’s disability unless that treatment is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Unfavourable treatment is a fairly broad category and (unlike other types of discrimination) does not require a direct comparison.  That is, there is no need to find someone who has been treated more favourably than the disabled pupil.

Recent cases at the Tribunal have dealt with exclusion from school, the use of physical restraint and a refusal to allow an additional year at school as unfavourable treatment.

In cases where the unfavourable treatment is admitted or established, the responsible body may argue that the treatment was not unlawful as it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate goal.  Often the aim pursued is self-evidently legitimate, and the question is then whether the treatment in question was a proportionate means of pursuing that goal.

The Technical Guidance gives an example (at para 5.47) of a pupil excluded from school meals because she found queueing distressing.  There may be a legitimate goal in this case, but if there are less restrictive means of achieving that goal (e.g. could the pupil be allowed to go straight to the head of the queue?) then the responsible body will struggle to show that the treatment is justified.

Overlap with additional support needs framework

The Equality Act 2010 is not the only piece of legislation which may apply, as disabled pupils may also have “additional support needs” in terms of Section 1 of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.  There are several areas in which there is an overlap between these two legal frameworks.

It is worth noting, for example, that neither the definition of additional support needs, nor the definition of disability require a formal diagnosis.  Both Acts are more focused on the day to day experience of the individual pupil.  Indeed, the definition of additional support needs specifically includes pupils who require additional support “for whatever reason”.

The First-tier Tribunal for Scotland’s Health and Education Chamber has jurisdiction for both types of case, and can join cases together where this is appropriate.  For example, in a case involving support for a disabled pupil to access an after school guitar club, the Tribunal considered the matter as a failure to comply with the child’s CSP and a reasonable adjustments case at the same time (cf. “Landmark victory for disabled pupil”, Daily Record 19 June 2013)

Issues arising during the Covid-19 pandemic

Questions of reasonable adjustments and disability discrimination arise in school even when there is no global pandemic to complicate matters.  However, there have been some specific issues arising which relate directly to the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures taken in response.

  • Some auxiliary services which required close contact with staff were restricted or ceased altogether (e.g. personal care needs, communication support needs).
  • Some auxiliary aids / assistive equipment which required handling (and therefore cleaning) were removed, or were available only on a restricted basis.
  • There was not consistent application of guidance on which children with additional support needs or disabilities could have access to learning hubs during periods of school closure. Disagreements arose as to who was regarded as “vulnerable”.
  • Some pupils required reasonable adjustments in order to access online learning.
  • Legal authority for the closure of schools – Educational Continuity Directions – was not in place at first.  The directions disapplied some of the ASL legislation, but only in a limited fashion.
  • There are ongoing issues relating to pupils who have missed education / transition planning, and reasonable adjustments may be required for disabled pupils.
  • Some disabled pupils found that access to online learning suited them well, and the return to in person lessons has been difficult, or impossible.  Reasonable adjustments may be required in terms of delivery of the curriculum in new and innovative ways.

Recent Tribunal cases

During the pandemic the Tribunal, after a short period in which only urgent cases were progressed, has adapted quickly and well to online hearings and electronic case papers.  There is no current backlog and cases (including disability discrimination cases) continue to be heard and determined.

Over the last academic year (2020-21) the Tribunal has considered disability discrimination cases which have covered a wide range of topics including: differentiation of the curriculum, subject choices in the senior secondary stages, exclusion from school, requests for additional time at school, specific strategies for addressing dyslexia, and the use of physical restraint. Few (if any) were directly related to the pandemic, but that is the context in which they took place.  To the extent that it was considered, it is reassuring to note one Tribunal’s comments in relation to transition planning:

“the COVID-19 pandemic does not remove the obligations of the responsible body to comply with the transition regulations.”

Image by Hatice EROL from Pixabay

Potential Energy (Part 2)

Continuing our consideration of the ASL Review Report, the main section of the report begins with “Theme 1: Vision and visibility”.  This covers two big issues.  One is that there is no defining national agenda or narrative in relation to additional support needs, demonstrated perhaps by their absence from the National Improvement Framework.  The second is that the term “additional support needs” continues to be misunderstood and misinterpreted, with the result that particular groups of children and young people who are covered by the law missing out on their rights in practice.

Continue reading “Potential Energy (Part 2)”

Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 9)

And so, we finally get to the core of the guidance, which is the duty itself and – almost as importantly – the three exceptions to that duty.  As the guidance notes: “If there is doubt about the suitability of mainstream provision, it is the role of the education authority to use the legislation to weigh up a range of matters including the child or young person’s wellbeing, in order to reach a conclusion on the application of the three exceptions..”

Continue reading “Mainstreaming, I presume? (Part 9)”

Placing request timescales amended

The Education (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 came into force on 23 April 2020, having been laid before the Scottish Parliament at 4.30pm the day before.

In short, they give the education authority more time in which to take a decision on placing requests, and education appeal committees more time in which to hear appeals.

Changes to the Education (Placing in Schools) (Scotland) Regulations 1982

  • The date on which a placing request (if not decided upon) is deemed to have been refused (if made on or before 15 March, for a place at the start of the next school year) is 31 May. This is effectively the deadline by which authorities should be taking these decisions. It has been extended from 30 April to 31 May.
  • For other placing requests (e.g. those made after 15 March, or for a placement starting immediately) the date on which it is deemed to have been refused is at the end of 3 months following the receipt of the placing request by the education authority. This has been increase from 2 months to 3 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to hold a hearing of a placing request appeal within the period of 4 months following receipt by the committee of the appeal reference, the committee will be deemed to have confirmed the decision of the education authority (i.e. to have refused the appeal). This has been increased from 2 months to 4 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to fix a new date following an adjourned hearing of a placing request appeal within the period of 28 days following the adjournment, the committee will be deemed to have confirmed the decision of the education authority (i.e. to have refused the appeal). This has been increased from 14 days to 28 days

Changes to the Education (Appeal Committee Procedures) (Scotland) Regulations 1982

  • An appeal committee must now acknowledge receipt of an appeal reference within 28 days (an increase from 5 “working days”).
  • A hearing of the appeal must be held by the appeal committee as soon as reasonable practicable within the period of 3 months following receipt of the reference (an increase from within 28 days). If this is not possible “owing to circumstances beyond their control”, the hearing should be held “as soon as reasonably practicable” (changed from “as soon as possible”). The same applies to combined hearings.
  • The education appeal committee must now give notification of the date and other details of a hearing as soon as reasonably practicable (changed from 14 days after receipt of the reference in most cases).
  • The format of hearings may change, as the regulations allow for a hearing to be conducted in whole or in part by video link, telephone or “other means of instantaneous multi-party electronic communication”.
  • The appeal committee may also (if all parties agree) decide an appeal reference without a hearing, based on consideration of written submissions and evidence alone.
  • Education appeal committees have 28 days to notify parties of their decision, and the reasons for it (changed from 14 days).

Changes to the Additional Support for Learning (Placing Requests and Deemed Decisions) (Scotland) Regulations 2005

These are the equivalent regulations to the Education (Placing in Schools) (Scotland) Regulations 1982, in relation to children and young people with additional support needs.

  • The date on which a placing request (if not decided upon) is deemed to have been refused (if made on or before 15 March, for a place at the start of the next school year) is 31 May. This is effectively the deadline by which authorities should be taking these decisions. It has been extended from 30 April to 31 May.
  • For other placing requests (e.g. those made after 15 March, or for a placement starting immediately) the date on which it is deemed to have been refused is at the end of 3 months following the receipt of the placing request by the education authority. This has been increase from 2 months to 3 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to hold a hearing of a placing request appeal within the period of 4 months following receipt by the committee of the appeal reference, the committee will be deemed to have confirmed the decision of the education authority (i.e. to have refused the appeal). This has been increased from 2 months to 4 months.
  • Where an education appeal committee has failed to fix a new date following an adjourned hearing of a placing request appeal within the period of 28 days following the adjournment, the committee will be deemed to have confirmed the decision of the education authority (i.e. to have refused the appeal). This has been increased from 14 days to 28 days.
  • The deadline for the authority making known to the appellant and the committee all of the information relevant to their decision is now “as soon as reasonably practicable” (changed from “immediately”).

Observations

The changes to the education appeal committee regulations will impact on exclusion cases as well as placing request cases.

The deadline for a parental appeal to the education appeal committee remains the same at 28 days.

The deadlines applicable to appeals to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber) remain the same. However, these were never as stringent in the first place, and are currently subject to the Guidance to Tribunal Members No 01/2020 “Hearings and the Covid-19 Outbreak” – which means that only time critical cases can currently proceed to a hearing (with a fairly strict definition of “time critical”).

As you know, most placing requests (including for children or young people with additional support needs) are heard by the education appeal committee. Appeals on placing requests for special schools (or special units), or for children and young people with a Co-ordinated Support Plan are heard by the Tribunal instead.

The implication of this is, of course, that if placing request decisions are not being taken until 31 May, and the appeal committee has up to four months to hear an appeal, in all likelihood that leads to significant numbers of appeals on placing requests not being heard until well into the next academic year. Apart from anything else, this makes transition planning for such cases challenging, to say the least.

The final point to make is that these regulations are not made under the new powers conferred by the Coronavirus Act 2020 or the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. They are made using existing regulation making powers. As such, there is no expiry date on these changes, and no scheduled review date. These changes will remain in force until further regulations are passed to amend them.

Image by mac231 from Pixabay

Presidential powers to refer to Scottish Ministers used for the first time

In my earlier post on the Ashdown House School Case, I mentioned in passing, the enforcement powers of the Tribunal in Scotland:

Of course, in Scotland, the President of the Health and Education Chamber has specific powers to monitor the implementation of Tribunal decisions. In the event that such decisions are not implemented, a referral to the Scottish Ministers (who have enforcement powers and mechanisms in relation to both public and independent schools) may be made.

These powers have now been used for the first time since the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland were first set up (back in 2005). In a recent disability discrimination case, the child (who was the litigant in that case) complained that the education authority in question had not complied with the orders made by the Tribunal within their decision.

Rule 12 of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland Health and Education Chamber Rules of Procedure 2018 state:

Power to monitor implementation of First-tier Tribunal decisions

12. The Chamber President may, in any case where a decision of the First-tier Tribunal required an authority to do anything, keep under review the authority’s compliance with the decision and, in particular, may—

(a) require the authority to provide information about the authority’s implementation of the First-tier Tribunal decision;
(b) where the Chamber President is not satisfied that the authority is complying with the decision, refer the matter to the Scottish Ministers.

So, while it is true that the Scottish Ministers do have enforcement powers in relation to both public and independent schools, the powers of the President do seem to be limited to decisions affecting education authorities.  They would not be available where the responsible body was the proprietor of an independent school.  Apologies.  I will amend the original article to reflect this.

In this case, however, the orders were made in relation to an education authority and the President, having first considered the authority’s information provided, and thereafter allowed a short period in which to further progress compliance with the decision, considered that the authority had not complied with the decision.  She therefore took the unprecedented step of referring the matter to the Scottish Ministers.

So, what will the Scottish Ministers do now?  Section 70 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and Section 27(9) to (11) of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 both give the Scottish Ministers powers to require education authorities to take certain action in relation to their functions under the 2004 Act (in the latter case) and in relation to the 1980 Act or “any other enactment relating to education” (in the former).

Given that this case was a claim (under the Equality Act 2010) and not a reference (under the 2004 Act) it seems likely that the Scottish Government will use the Section 70 route.  This now has a statutory procedure, set out in the Section 70 (Procedure) (Scotland) Regulations 2017, and would ultimately allow Scottish Ministers to declare the authority to be in default of their duties, and to require them to take specified action to remedy that default.

Given that there is the possibility for this process to be used in relation to most Tribunal decisions, those drafting orders should bear in mind the need for any requirements to be clear and specific – it should be obvious whether a decision has been complied with or not.  Orders should also, in appropriate cases, come with time limits.  Otherwise it can be difficult to know when a delay (or even an ongoing process) might be viewed as a failure to comply.

This is a significant development, and a reminder to claimants and appellants with a decision in their favour that there is a way in which the implementation of the decision can be monitored and – if necessary – enforced.

IPSEA Manifesto 2019

It will not have escaped your attention that there is a UK General Election campaign underway at the moment.  IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice) have released a manifesto asking the next Government to address a “SEND system in crisis”.  SEND is an acronym for Special Educational Needs and Disability.

Now, IPSEA is an organisation which does not operate in Scotland, and education is a devolved issue, so this is not directly relevant to the situation north of the border.  The education system and the ASL framework in particular has significant differences.  However, it remains of interest to see what the position is like elsewhere in the UK, and to compare that to the Scottish situation, in relation to each of IPSEA’s 7 “asks”.

1. A robust system of accountability so that local authorities know there are serious consequences if they flout the law.

The complaint here is that SEN law seems to be disregarded with few consequences for local authorities.  In Scotland, there are fairly well developed and reasonably accessible mechanisms for dispute resolution and for putting right things which have gone wrong at the time they do.  It is far less straightforward to seek restitution for things which have happened in the past (even in the relatively recent past).

IPSEA mention the ability of a family to pursue a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) – and indeed there are examples of compensation being recommended by the Ombudsman in SEND cases.

In Scotland, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) generally refuses complaints related to additional support needs, as these should be dealt with by the Tribunal or other statutory mechanism instead.  It can, in theory, recommend compensation, but basically doesn’t.  Professional negligence claims in education cases are difficult legally, and vanishingly rare.  All in all, it remains the case (as IPSEA state) “so much of the burden is placed on parents when things go wrong”.

One “simple fix” would be to give disabled pupils facing discrimination at school the right to seek compensation (including damages for “injury to feelings”) in the same way that disabled persons facing discrimination in any other field can do, and that pupils facing any other form of discrimination can do.  This would require the amendment of the Equality Act 2010, so it is a matter for the UK Government, and therefore this election, even in relation to Scotland.

Why is it – uniquely among victims of unlawful discrimination – that disabled school pupils are prevented from seeking compensation for the wrongs done to them?

2. Better joined up working across education, health and social care, particularly during the EHC needs assessment process.

There is no doubt that this is an issue in Scotland as well.  A Co-ordinated Support Plan is required only where there is a need for co-ordination of support, but it can often be difficult to get “appropriate agencies” to contribute, attend meetings etc.

Is there an opportunity for a revised, statutory Child’s Plan scheme (freed from the shackles of the Named Person debacle) to facilitate this joined up working for children and young people with additional support needs?

3. Mandatory SEND law training for all those involved in assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND.  The national qualification for SENCOs should also include a module on the SEND law framework.

I am a lawyer, and often deliver ASL law training to those involved in assessing and meeting the needs of children and young people with additional support needs.  So, I clearly think it has its place – I would probably say that it’s not anyone’s top priority though.

The SQA recognise and certify HNC and HND courses in Additional Support Needs. While the HNC is described thus, “Candidates may work or wish to work as an assistant within a mainstream or specialised school”, there is no national or required qualification for Support for Learning Assistants in Scotland.

4. The extended powers of the SEND Tribunal currently being trialed under the national trial for a single route of redress should be made permanent, but also strengthened so that the Tribunal can make binding orders in relation o children and young people’s health and social care needs and provision.

SEND Tribunals are currently in the midst of a two-year national trial.  During this time (April 2018 to March 2020), SEND Tribunals can make non-binding recommendations on:

  • the health and social care needs specified in EHC plans;
  • the health and social care provision specified in EHC plans related to the learning
    difficulties or disabilities that result in the child or young person having SEN; and/or
  • the social care provision specified in EHC plans that is made under Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

There are no current plans to confer similar powers on the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber), even on a trial basis.  Perhaps the assessment of the trial period in England will prompt consideration of extended powers in Scotland, too.

5. Stronger guidance on SEN Support to ensure there is clarity over how children should be supported at this level and what good quality SEN Support looks like.

It is a difficult task to describe “what good quality SEN Support” looks like as it is, inevitably, going to vary from child to child, even where children share a diagnosis.  “Supporting Children’s Learning”, the Code of Practice in Scotland, is being revised at the moment, and already contains some very useful examples illustrating the variety of approaches needed to meet the diversity of needs encompassed by the broad term “additional support needs”.

6. The jurisdiction of the LGSCO should be extended to enable it to investigate complaints about schools who fail to deliver SEN Support.

In Scotland, I feel that the process of independent adjudication effectively fills this role.  Regular visitors to the blog will know that I am a fan of this system.  The main problem is a simple lack of awareness.

7. Adequate funding to ensure that all children and young people with SEND receive the support they need to meet their individual needs whether that’s under SEN Support or through an Education, Health and Care plan.

It’s hard to argue with a call for “adequate funding” – agreeing what level of funding is actually adequate is another question.  One point to note is that any additional funding for SEN Support in England would, in terms of the “Barnett consequentials“, result in a corresponding increase in the Scottish budget, though it would be for the Scottish Government (or potentially Scottish local authorities) to decide whether or not any such increase would go to additional support for learning.

Scottish Parliamentary elections are due to take place in 2021.  Perhaps organisations working across the additional support needs sector in Scotland should even now be thinking about a similar manifesto?

Case summary – Midlothian Council v. PD (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)

Since the beginning of 2018, further appeals in additional support needs cases go from the Tribunal to the Upper Tribunal for Scotland.  It has taken until now, however, for a case to actually get as far as that and yield a decision for us to look at.  Let us set aside for the moment my own personal disappointment that it was not one of my cases, and the fact that it is only a determination of the question of permission to appeal, and see what the case actually says.

The case in question is Midlothian Council v. PD [2019] UT 52 (PDF) and it is an appeal against a decision of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Health and Education Chamber) to grant a placing request appeal in favour of the appellant (the parent of a child with additional support needs).

Continue reading “Case summary – Midlothian Council v. PD (Upper Tribunal for Scotland)”

Ashdown House School case (a summary)

I bring news of an interesting disability discrimination case involving an independent school in England.  The case was determined by the Upper Tribunal, which is basically the appeal route as exists in Scotland from the Health and Education Chamber (previously known as the Additional Support Needs Tribunals).

The case is that of Ashdown House School v. JKL & MNP (not their real names!) and involved a pupil who was referred to for the purposes of the case as “Bobby”.

The facts of the case

Bobby was ten years old and a pupil at Ashdown House School, who has ADHD, sensory processing difficulties and emotional and social difficulties arising from trauma in his early childhood and in the womb.  He is a disabled person in terms of Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010.

He was permanently excluded from the School on 9 February 2019.  He was excluded for aggressive behaviour, including placing another pupil in a headlock and what the school describes as “37 incidents of unprovoked aggression”.  The school admitted that the exclusion amounted to unfavourable treatment, but maintained that the exclusion was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.  The aim in this case was to ensure the health and safety of staff and pupils at the school.  For their part, the parents accepted that this was a legitimate aim, but not that the school had acted proportionately.

The Tribunal (at first instance) found that the exclusion was not proportionate, and was therefore unlawful discrimination.  This was for a number of reasons.  The Tribunal found that while the school had made a number of reasonable adjustments, there were other reasonable adjustments which could have been made (including anger management sessions, consulting with the local authority, and allowing parents to seek a review of Bobby’s Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), or seeking advice from CAMHS regarding his medication).  The Tribunal also found that the exclusion came “like a bolt out of the blue” in that neither pupil nor parents had been warned it was a possible consequence of the incidents.  There was also evidence that other violent incidents within the school (involving other, non-disabled pupils) had been dealt with less severely.

The Tribunal ordered Bobby’s immediate readmission, and that the school formally apologise to Bobby.

The school appealed to the Upper Tribunal.

Legal questions arising on appeal

In considering the appeal, the Upper Tribunal had to consider four discrete points:

  1. Does the First-tier Tribunal (SENDIST) have the power to order reinstatement of an excluded pupil to school?
  2. How can decisions of the First-tier Tribunal (SENDIST) be enforced, if not by the Tribunal itself?
  3. In the light of the courts’ traditional reluctance to order specific performance of contracts involving personal service/contact or supervision, is an order to reinstate a pupil at an independent school (in terms of a contract between the parents and the school) appropriate?
  4. Is it appropriate to order an apology in special educational needs and disability (SEND) cases?

The Upper Tribunal’s decision

The Upper Tribunal dismissed the appeal, and Bobby was – ultimately – allowed to return to school.  I understand that he also received his apology.

The school argued, that in the case of an independent school, the Tribunal would be restricted to making a declaration of discrimination, and making recommendations for the school to consider.  The Upper Tribunal rejected this argument. The wording of the Act permits Tribunal to make such order as it thinks fit (excluding an order for payment of compensation).  This wording obviously includes a power to order reinstatement.

At some considerable length, the Upper Tribunal considers how one of its decisions might be enforced, if not complied with.

Although the Tribunal itself does not have the power to enforce its own decisions in that regard, one of the parties to the action can rely on the inherent power of the High Court to commit for contempt of court in the event of non-compliance with the order or the [Equality and Human Rights Commission] may itself take proceeding under s.24 of the 2006 Act to achieve the same end. The School, however, is not amenable to judicial review because it is not a public body and in expelling the pupil it was not exercising public law functions.

Of course, in Scotland, the President of the Health and Education Chamber has specific powers to monitor the implementation of Tribunal decisions.  In the event that such decisions are not implemented, a referral to the Scottish Ministers (who have enforcement powers and mechanisms in relation to both public and independent schools) may be made.

Edit – while it is true that the Scottish Ministers do have enforcement powers in relation to both public and independent schools, the powers of the President under Rule 12 of the Tribunal’s Procedure Rules do seem to be limited to decisions affecting education authorities.  They would not be available where the responsible body was the proprietor of an independent school.  Apologies.  In such cases, a parent or pupil might approach the Scottish Ministers directly (or the Registrar of Independent Schools) to progress their complaint.

The Upper Tribunal determined that while the Tribunals should have regard to the historic reluctance of the courts to impose specific performance of a contract which involves personal service and supervision, and the reasons for that reluctance, this did not preclude the Tribunal from making such an order in appropriate circumstances.

The Upper Tribunal suggested that it would be “sensible for a Tribunal considering a disability discrimination claim in the future to consider matters such as whether it is practicable to make an order for reinstatement and, in cases where the applicant has caused or contributed to the expulsion, whether it would be just to order reinstatement.”

In finding that an order for an apology was appropriate in these circumstances, the Upper Tribunal set out the following guidance for future cases (likely to be relevant in Scottish cases, too) repeated largely verbatim below:

  • The Tribunal does have the power to make an order for an apology.
  • An apology may have a wider purpose than merely preventing further discrimination against the child in question. To the extent that an apology is an assurance as to future conduct, an order that there be an apology gives teeth to a declaration of unlawful discrimination.
  • There can be value in an apology: apologies are very important to many people and may provide solace for the emotional or psychological harm caused by unlawful conduct. An apology might reduce the mental distress, hurt and indignity associated with a permanent exclusion. It might also assist with recovery, forgiveness and reconciliation. An order that there be an apology can be regarded as part of the vindication of the claimant.
  • A tribunal should consider whether the apology should more appropriately be made to the child or to their parents. In the case of very young children the latter may be more appropriate for obvious reasons.
  • An order to make an apology may well be appropriate when there is already an acceptance that there has been discrimination or unlawful conduct.
  • However, the fact that there has been a contested hearing and that the respondent has strenuously disputed that there has been any discrimination or unlawful conduct is not decisive against ordering an apology.
  • Nevertheless, particularly where there has been a dispute or a contested hearing, the tribunal should always consider whether it is appropriate to make an order and bear in mind that it may create resentment on one side and an illusion on the other, do nothing for future relations and may make them even worse.
  • Before ordering an apology, a tribunal should always satisfy itself that it will be of some true value.
  • A tribunal should always be aware that there may be problems of supervision if it accepts responsibility for overseeing the terms of the apology which can result in drawn out arguments over wording.

Conclusion

The decision of the Upper Tribunal in this case is likely to be of interest and use in a number of Scottish cases, especially those involving questions of admission and exclusion to an independent school.  However, the points of guidance on the question of an apology are of broader application and I anticipate will be widely cited within the Health and Education Chamber.

 

Included, Engaged and Involved Part 1

New Attendance Guidance – is it any good?

Last week the Scottish Government published revised guidance on school attendance.

The guidance is called Included, Engaged and Involved Part 1: A Positive Approach to the Promotion and Management of Attendance in Scottish Schools.  As the name suggests, there is an immediate link being made here with school exclusion – Part 2 of the “Included, Engaged and Involved” is the exclusions guidance (which is, by and large, very good).  Anyone who has read the Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved research will know the very real overlaps between non-attendance at school and informal exclusions from school for disabled pupils / pupils with additional support needs.

I come across issues of attendance and non-attendance in my capacity as a solicitor and also as a member of a local attendance council for a Scottish local authority.  More often in the first capacity, the situation is that a child with additional support needs is “not coping” with school and this is manifesting itself in behaviour which makes it not safe for them to attend, or in a refusal to attend school – often expressed in very definite terms.

Note already the terminology used – it is the child who is not coping, rather than the school environment (say) or teacher practice (for example) which requires amendment.

Pupils with additional support needs have a lower rate of attendance than pupils with no additional support needs, with the difference being particularly stark in mainstream secondary schools (88.6% compared to 92.1%) 2017 stats.  Given this known disparity, it is disappointing that the section on Additional Support for Learning occupies half of one page (in a fifty page document).  There are four paragraphs, three of which explain what additional support needs means as a term and a little bit about Co-ordinated Support Plans.

The other paragraph, however, does sort of get to the heart of matters (in all fairness):

Providing additional support may help children and young people to engage more fully with school and promote good attendance. Schools should recognise that poor attendance can often be related to, or be an indication of, an additional support need and they should use their staged intervention processes to ensure that any barriers to learning are identified and appropriate support is provided.

My concern is that this gets lost in a document which has much more to say about the traditional means of responding to absence: work being sent home; attendance orders; references to the children’s panel; and prosecution of the parents of the absent child (five pages devoted to the “Measures for compulsory compliance” appendix!).  None of which is helpful or effective in relation to a child whose autism means that they are unable to function effectively (let alone learn) in the busy environment of a large mainstream school.  These systems were set up decades ago to deal with truancy and are ill-suited to other purposes.  Further, once you are in the enforcement process, it is difficult to get out.

Fortunately, the Tribunals – and the Court of Session, in the 2018 Inner House case of City of Edinburgh Council v. R, may take a more considered view of this type of case.  The case deals with some fairly technical matters under the Equality Act 2010, but ultimately has no difficulty with the Tribunal’s finding that a CSP for a disabled child refusing to attend school (for reasons arising from that disability) which basically says the school can do nothing until the child attends school – was inadequate, detrimental and discriminatory.

 

Deaf Awareness Week 6-13 May 2019, Celebrating Role Models

The rights of deaf pupils in Scotland’s schools

In this, my second blog post to mark Deaf Awareness Week 2019, I wanted to look at the rights of deaf pupils at school.  What are those rights, and how does that translate into actual support for deaf pupils in reality?

A child or young person has additional support needs if they require additional support in order to benefit from school education (Section 1, Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004).  This applies to all children and young people for whose school education a Scottish education authority are responsible.  So, anyone at a local authority school or nursery, or placed at an independent or grant-aided special school by their local authority.

The type of additional support which may be required will vary from one deaf pupil to another, but the education authority has a duty to make “adequate and efficient” provision for those needs, whatever they happen to be (Section 4(1)(a) of the 2004 Act).  The Code of Practice, for example, makes specific reference to support from a “peripatetic teacher of the deaf” (Chapter 2, para 13).

Also of relevance is the Equality Act 2010, which imposes a reasonable adjustment duty on schools in relation to disabled pupils – including deaf pupils.  This duty applies to all schools in Scotland, whether they are public schools, grant-aided schools or independent schools. Again, what constitutes a reasonable adjustment for one deaf pupil will not necessarily mean that it is appropriate for another. It all depends on the individual child or young person, their needs and their preferences.

The Technical Guidance for Schools in Scotland does have some useful and instructive examples.  At para 6.40, there is an example of a deaf pupil who reads lips – in that case “a reasonable adjustment would have been to train all staff to ensure that they face the pupil when speaking to him”.  At 6.48, a list of potential reasonable adjustments includes “Assistance from a sign language interpreter, lip-speaker or deaf-blind communicator”.

Whether relying on the rights found in the 2004 Act or the 2010 Act, deaf pupils and their families have access to various dispute resolution mechanisms, including mediation, independent adjudication and the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (also known as the Additional Support Needs Tribunal).

I spoke to  Alasdair O’Hara, Head of Policy and Influencing at the National Deaf Children’s Society (Scotland) , in order to get an idea of the current picture of support for deaf pupils in Scotland’s schools:

Deafness isn’t a learning disability and we know that deaf children can do just as well in life as any other child, so long as they get the right support.

Deafness is a low incidence need with 87% of deaf children and young people educated within mainstream schools, meaning those professionals and teachers that support deaf pupils often require access to specialist expertise such as Teachers of the Deaf.

The latest Scottish Government data shows that deaf young people are now 30% less likely to collect Highers or Advanced Highers than their hearing classmates, with only 42% deaf young people collecting the qualifications, compared to 60% of their classmates.

The data also shows that 10% of deaf children will now leave school with no qualifications at all, and are half as likely to go to university as their hearing friends.

To work towards closing this unacceptable attainment gap, other simple improvements can be made in mainstream education settings. Good classroom acoustics, deaf pupils having access to technology and ensuring teachers are deaf aware and know how to use the technology correctly are all vital in supporting a deaf child’s learning.

This tells me that while there is a good level of inclusion for deaf pupils within mainstream schools, more could still be done to ensure that there is a level playing field, allowing them to access education on the same terms as their hearing peers.  Last year, the Tribunal reported only one case which concerned a deaf pupil.  Where additional support and/or reasonable adjustments required are not in place, pupils and parents alike should be made aware of their rights – and how to enforce them.