Council misinterprets Disability Discrimination Act over school trip

Highland Council cancelled a school trip for Crown Primary School. The council has been criticised for misinterpreting the Disability Discrimination Act.

Late last year, Highland Council cancelled an annual school trip to an outdoor activity centre for 70 children at Crown Primary School in Inverness, to avoid facing legal action under the Disability Discrimination Act. The council has been criticised for misinterpreting the law.

Donna Williamson, the mother of a disabled child who attends the school and was to go on the trip, said her daughter is physically unable to take part in the activities planned. She told BBC Scotland:

“She cannot hold a bow and arrow for example, or go kayaking, because she has no upper body strength.

“My daughter would have been excluded in that she would have had to stay in the centre while all the kids went off to do the activities.

“When she wasn’t in the centre she would have been asked to film them kayaking and doing the things she would love to do but she cannot do and I thought that was psychologically a pretty cruel thing to ask a child to do.”

The Disability Discrimination Act states that, when carrying out their functions, schools have a duty to:

• promote equality of opportunity between disabled people and other people;

• encourage participation by disabled people in public life;

• take steps to meet disabled people’s needs, even if this requires more favourable treatment.

Last week, the council’s decision to cancel the trip was criticised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), who accused the council of “a lack of planning and foresight.” The Commission also said that the cancellation of the trip was “the easiest answer.” The EHRC added that the cancellation was not unlawful, but said that it hoped practice in other schools could be better demonstrated than in this case.

Highland Council said there was no alternative to cancelling the trip after taking legal advice. In a statement, Highland Council’s education chief, Hugh Fraser, admitted that mistakes had been made by his department in this case, but provided assurance that this will not set a precedent for other cases. He said the school and council officers were now working to ensure that high quality experiences meeting the needs of all pupils would be offered.

Disability Rights campaigners believe that this case has taken the Disability Discrimination Act too far. Left Foot Forward has spoken about this case to two disabled young people, both of whom have successfully completed mainstream educations.

Stacey, who has had Cerebral Palsy from birth and has worked as a Further Education tutor, says:

“This is just silly. I accepted from an early age that some school activities I would not be able to take part in. It’s not discrimination. It’s life and practicalities.

“Of course every effort should be made so that disabled people can take part in activities, but ya know what, sometimes it is just not possible.

“I feel sorry for the other kids who will miss out. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

Another young person, who wishes to remain anonymous, remembers being taken on a similar trip by her mainstream primary school. She says:

“My mum had to come along, which was more than a little embarrassing for me. The trip was not without its problems, but we were both glad that I went.”

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