Disabled education workers and students suffering under austerity

TUC finds that over half of all disabled NASUWT members do not feel reasonable adjustments are made for them

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A report published today by the TUC finds that government reforms and austerity measures are endangering the education of young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

Disabled Workers and Students in Education, available to download from the TUC website, says that continuous changes to the school system and curriculum have contributed to rising levels of stress and mental health problems among disabled students and staff.

The report looks both at the experience of disabled teaching staff in the UK and at the effects of various changes to the SEND system. It identifies a number of reasons for the decline in progress in the area of SEND:

  • Discrimination against disabled staff members (77 per cent of disabled NASUWT members reported facing discrimination, 81 per cent report bullying and harrassment).
  • Increasing workloads leading to rising stress levels among staff (surveys suggest that 60-hour weeks are common).
  • Local authority funding cuts leading to reduced SEND services (local authority funding dropped by more than 40 per cent between 2010 and 2015).
  • Regular changes to the curriculum (71 per cent of NUT members believe the curriculum does not meet the needs of pupils with SEND).
  • Abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance in 2011 (pupils with SEND were more likely to be eligible for this post-16 education funding).

In addition, changes to the Disabled Students Allowance announced in 2014 would have cut funding for equipment and support, particularly for students whose needs were deemed to be ‘mild’. A campaign by the NUS postponed the proposal, but the TUC say it is likely to be reintroduced.

By law, employers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for workers who are defined as disabled, but the TUC found that in many cases workers feel that it is they who have to make the adjustment. More than half (53 per cent) of NASUWT disabled members said that their school had failed to put reasonable adjustments in place.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“It is clear that the government’s austerity policy is jeopardising the educational opportunities for young people with special needs and disabilities.

“And it’s not just the students that are suffering. Disabled teachers are facing discrimination and soaring stress levels as a result of the government’s continuous changes to the structure of the school system and the curriculum.”

The TUC say that although it may be too early to fully assess the impact reforms have had on 1.5 million young people with SEND, the evidence suggests that the combined impact of austerity cuts and reforms to the system have reversed progress being made towards a welcoming and inclusive system for disabled students and staff.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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