FAQs about Physical Disability and Educational Settings

Answers to some frequently asked questions about supporting children and young people with physical disabilities in mainstream settings 

A young child with a physical disability has challenges which can affect their ‘school readiness’ and future learning. The Special Educational Needs Code of Practice in England instructs educational settings to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help each child overcome those challenges because every child deserves the best possible start in life.  

Parents, carers and professionals frequently ask Shine for advice on a range of issues affecting children and young people with physical needs in nursery and in mainstream school.  

Here are some answers regarding physical needs in schools... 

  1. How can schools create an inclusive culture to influence attitudes towards physical disability?

People without physical disabilities often see ramps, lifts, accessible toilets, changing places and specialist equipment as the most important items on the physical needs inclusion checklist for schools. But there are other important support needs, which children and young people with physical disabilities have.

A welcoming and positive attitude towards inclusion is vital for a child or young person to feel fully part of a school. This attitude should be underpinned by schools planning well ahead and communicating fully with individuals with physical conditions and their parents/carers. 

Shine offers talks to schools about spina bifida and hydrocephalus for pupils, as part of disability awareness programmes, and for staff so they can find out about teaching strategies. For more details contact Shine on 01733 555988 or firstcontact@shinecharity.org.uk 

The Physical Disabilities Network (PD Net) offers schools a free ‘Raising Awareness of Physical Disability’ e-learning module. This module ensures that all staff from lunchtime supervisors to transport escorts, are fully trained in Disability Awareness. 

Education professionals can join PD Net and receive their newsletter by following the link here

  1. What advice can you give about training of teaching staff to helpchildren and young people with continence management?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission Reasonable Adjustment guidance suggests that it is reasonable for a school to train staff to carry out certain procedures, such as personal care or administering medicine. However, staff cannot be compelled to do this if it is not in their contract. Schools will often get around this by relying on existing staff to volunteer, but if necessary, they should recruit staff who will carry out personal care as part of their contract. 

If the cost of providing this support would exceed the school’s resources, the school should explore additional top-up funding. Some pupils may need (or already have) an EHC plan if their disability means they need extra support to learn. If this is the case, the extra support should be detailed in the EHC plan. 

It is not reasonable to expect a parent to come into school to provide personal care, or to take a child home, for example to change them, because the school cannot provide the support.   

Further advice about continence can be found on the following websites: 

  1. How can schools improve their current physical disability provision?

PDNet has funding from the Department of Education (DfE) to seek collaborative and flexible solutions to difficulties encountered by families and professionals supporting children and young people with physical disabilities. 

Standards for Schools and Early Years Settings is a self-audit tool for schools and Early Years settings to evaluate their current physical disability provision and then create an action plan to improve standards for children and young people with physical needs. 

It is hoped that the standard of physical disability provision in school will improve as a result of the application of the standards audit.

  1. How can schools share their tried and tested ideas for teaching children and young people with physical needs?

PDNet’s Effective Practice Hub for teachers of children and young people with physical disabilities is seeking best practice to share with other professionals. 

There is also a forum for education professionals to ask questions and to share information. 

  1. How can mainstream schools provide inclusive sports, games and activities?

SENDCo’s and teachers in mainstream schools often ask how they can make PE and sports days more inclusive for pupils with physical needs. Parents are also seeking advice on ideas for inclusive games to pass on to schools or to use at home during family activities. 

Teachers seeking advice on making PE lessons and Sports Days more inclusive can ask for support from their local authority’s team of specialist teachers of pupils with physical disabilities.   

The Local Offer may also contain useful information like this. 

Top Tips for PE 

  • Seek advice from a physiotherapist/occupational therapist (OT) 
  • Ask the child for ideas on how they can be involved. 
  • Use alternative equipment e.g. height adjustable basketball nets, light weight basketballs, hand ribbons and scarves for dance.
  • Use the STEP Framework (space, task, equipment, people).
  • Consider dignity in changing and showering. 
  • Select floor activities that everyone can do 
  • Swimming is a great inclusive sport for all. 
  • Plan Sports Day well in advance- this is an anticipatory duty  

In addition, there are charities and organisations, which give advice to schools about inclusive PE lessons.  

Professionals can gain free advice and training about modifying games to suit a range of abilities:  

  1. Why are some children with physical disabilities prevented from going on school trips? 

Preventing a pupil from attending a school trip is likely to be discriminatory- particularly if it is during the normal school day- unless the school can show that there is a good reason for the treatment. Sometimes, for example there might be concerns about the health and safety of a pupil with a disability, or of other pupils on a trip. 

However, the law places an anticipatory duty on schools. This means that they must plan well ahead with the pupil’s needs in mind when arranging a particular school activity. This will enable them to assess any risks and barriers, and to think about what steps they can take to remove these, so that the pupil with a disability can take part. 

If this is not possible, the school should consider arranging a more inclusive alternative trip for all the pupils. An informal discussion with the school should be the first step, followed by a complaint if not resolved.  

  1. What can schools do to make assessments inclusive for children and young people with physical disabilities?   

The PDNet team contacted the Department for Education, concerning the assessment of writing and handwriting, and the following advice was given to teachers when completing some assessments in schools. 

Where pupils have a physical disability or sensory impairment that prevents them from demonstrating attainment in the way described in a statement, their equivalent method of communication or learning is applicable (e.g. visual phonics for a pupil with a hearing impairment).   

Where pupils have a physical disability or sensory impairment that prevents them from accessing a statement altogether, these statements can be excluded from the teacher assessment (e.g. for handwriting if the pupil is physically unable to write).  

Teachers should use their professional discretion in making such judgements for each statement and each individual pupil. 

A standard can only be awarded where a pupil has met every statement which they are able to access.’ 

Further Reading 

If you are looking for answers to questions about education then the Equality and Advisory Support Service (EASS) has produced detailed guidance for schools on how the Equality Act duties apply to them. They also have useful template letters for anyone needing to complain to schools about failure to make reasonable adjustments for a pupil with a disability. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission document Reasonable Adjustments for Disabled Pupils provides helpful practical examples of how the duties apply in schools.  

Disability Rights UK has a handbook available containing in-depth guidance on a range of disability related subjects. There are also several advice sheets for young people who are planning to go to university. See their website for more information

Further Advice

For any further advice on applying for an EHC plan, or if you have any concerns about your child’s development, please contact your health visitor, school nurse, or contact Shine on 01733 555988 or click here to email us.

Our office hours are Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. We aim to respond to all enquiries as quickly as possible!

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