Section 20 of the Equality Act 2010 requires public bodies to make reasonable adjustments to provisions, criteria or practices to prevent disabled people being disadvantaged. In simple terms this means a school cannot force a disabled child to perform in the same way as other children. One size does not fit all.
A real life example: my autistic son is allowed to stand and wave an extended goodbye until Mom or Dad have walked all the way around the corner of the building and out of sight, whereas normally children must go straight inside the classroom. This helps him settle his nerves. In other words the normal rules do not apply to him – a reasonable adjustment has been made to account for his disability.
The SEND Code fleshes out what type of reasonable adjustments schools are expected to take.
This is important because there can be no punishment or disciplinary action in the absence of the school first fulfilling its own duties.
Far too often schools punish disabled children up to exclusion for meltdown behaviour that in reality is a reaction to having been triggered or due to an unmet need. Both often stem from a school’s failure to secure an appropriate environment for the disabled child. In short – the school has failed to fulfil its duty and is mitigating this failure by punishing the child.
As readers are aware, my book SEN & EHCP details this, the background context and related case law. But for the purposes of this explainer it would be useful to list these reasonable adjustments. You should not hesitate to request these measures if they are appropriate for your child. Make sure your requests are backed up in writing (email) and that you receive responses in writing too.
Good schools will work with you to implement an appropriate package of measures. Schools’ refusals or failures are not only actionable in the First-tier tribunal (discrimination claims), but perhaps more commonly this refusal serves as vital evidence to support the parent’s contention that an EHCP is necessary during the formal EHC Needs Assessment process. You will be able to argue that left to its own devices the school is unlikely to secure the required SEN provision having previously refused to make similar reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
So what reasonable adjustments must schools make?
The SEND Code cites the following:
- addressing factors within the class that may exacerbate the problem, for example using circle time to discuss difficult relationships and identify constructive responses
- teaching the child alternative behaviour, for example by taking quiet time in a specially designated area at times of stress
- providing the child with a channel of communication, for example use of peer support
- using a carefully designed system of behaviour targets drawn up with the child and linked to a reward system which, wherever possible, involves parents or carers
- ensuring that all staff coming into contact with the child are briefed on potential triggers for outbursts and effective ways of heading off trouble at an early stage
- drawing up a contingency plan if there is an outburst in class, for example, identifying with the child a key helper who can be called to remove the child from the situation, and
- ensuring that if there is any possibility that positive handling may need to be used to prevent injury to the child, young person or others or damage to property, relevant staff have had training in appropriate techniques, that these have been carefully explained to the child and that the circumstances in which they will be used are recorded in a written plan agreed with and signed by the child and their parents or carers. 
Autism-specific reasonable adjustments
The SEND Code provides these examples of reasonable steps a school would need to take to ensure the inclusion of an autistic child:
- ensuring all possible steps are taken to provide structure and predictability to the child’s day, for example by the use of visual timetables, careful prior explanation of changes to routines and clear instructions for tasks
- ensuring that the child is taught a means of communicating wants and needs using sign, symbol or spoken language
- working with a member of staff on a structured programme of activities designed to prepare him or her for joining in class or group activities, for example by using ‘social scripts’ to rehearse appropriate behaviour
- having an individual workstation within a teaching space where distractions can be kept to a minimum and everything needed for the work to be done can be organised in sequence, and
- ensuring that all staff are briefed on the warning signs which may indicate potential behaviour challenge and on a range of activities which provide effective distraction if used sufficiently early.
A real-life example
This court case concerns a girl with Down’s Syndrome. You can read it here. The court walks us through the level of reasonable adjustments the school was making (albeit this was a mainstream school with a specialism in educating children with communication difficulties):
- an individual timetable.
- placed in a ‘Green Group’ for children with speech or language disorder – split into two sets.
- behaviour improvement strategies were used: reduced work group sizes
- use of visual aids,
- use of singing and “working through behaviour strategies”.
- The class teacher “role modelled” appropriate language for “what we
believed that she was trying to communicate”.
If the school does not have the budget to implement all of these measures then the correct course is to implement what it reasonably can while simultaneously, having discussed the matter first with the parents, refer the child to the Local Authority for an EHC needs assessment whose end result would result in top up funding.
Feel free to send this explainer/URL to your school teacher and SenCo.
Remember the parent-child-school relationship is a partnership that requires all parties to play their part. Parents and schools need to listen carefully to each other and not come with preconceived ideas.
Schools budgets are stressed so realistically there will be occasions when things don’t go entirely to plan but none of this can excuse bad practice or persistent failure.
The requirement to make these adjustments is an obligation in law, as long as they are reasonable.
Equally these lists are indicative. Not every child will require every single measure listed. Some may require more, some less. Everything will be dependent on the specific circumstances of the child or young person.
If the school is failing to acknowledge the child or young person’s needs or failing to implement reasonable adjustments then it’s probably time you applied for an EHC Needs Assessment. Read the explainer on that process here.
 SEND Code para. 9.92 / p.175 – 176.
 SEND Code para. 9.92 / p.176 – 177.