Reasonable adjustments

You should be familiar with the reasonable adjustments duty as this was first introduced under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The reasonable adjustments duty under the Equality Act operates slightly differently and has been extended to cover the provision by a school of auxiliary aids and services. The object of the duty is the same: to avoid as far as possible by reasonable means, the disadvantage which a disabled pupil experiences because of their disability.

This duty sits alongside your duties and those of local authorities under Part 4 of the Education Act 1996. In some cases the support a disabled pupil may receive under the special educational needs framework may mean that they do not suffer a substantial disadvantage (see below) and so there is no need for additional reasonable adjustments to be made for them. In other cases disabled pupils may require reasonable adjustments in addition to the special educational provision they are receiving. There are also disabled pupils who do not have special educational needs but still require reasonable adjustments to be made for them. The level of support a pupil is receiving under Part 4 of the Education Act 1996 is one of the factors to be taken into account when you consider what it would be reasonable for you to have to do.  

Auxiliary Aids Technical Guidance

Schools and education authorities have had a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils since 2002 (originally under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (the DDA) and, from October 2010, under the Equality Act 2010). From 1 September 2012 the reasonable adjustments duty for schools and education authorities includes a duty to provide auxiliary aids and services for disabled pupils.

This guide will help school leaders and education authorities understand and comply with the reasonable adjustments duty, including the new auxiliary aids and services provision. It will also help disabled pupils and their parents understand the duty.

The focus of this guide is on the practical implementation of the reasonable adjustments duty in schools. It includes practical case studies showing how the duty can be applied in contexts which will be familiar to teachers.

Reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils (PDF)

Reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils (Word)

Reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils Scotland (Word)

Reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils - Welsh (Word)

What is the reasonable adjustments duty?

You are required to take reasonable steps to avoid substantial disadvantage where a provision, criterion or practice puts disabled pupils at a substantial disadvantage.

You owe this duty to existing pupils, applicants and, in limited circumstances, to disabled former pupils in relation to the following areas:

  • deciding who is offered admission as a pupil  
  • the provision of education  
  • access to any benefit, service or facility.

The duty does not require you to make reasonable adjustments to avoid the disadvantage caused by physical features as this is covered by the planning duties.

You cannot justify a failure to make a reasonable adjustment; where the duty arises, the issue will be whether or not to make the adjustment is ‘reasonable’ and this is an objective question for the tribunals to ultimately determine.

The duty is an anticipatory and continuing one that you owe to disabled pupils generally, regardless of whether you know that a particular pupil is disabled or whether you currently have any disabled pupils. You should not wait until an individual disabled pupil approaches you before you consider how to meet the duty. Instead you should plan ahead for the reasonable adjustments you may need to make, regardless of whether you currently have any disabled pupils. By anticipating the need for an adjustment you will be best placed to help disabled pupils who come to your school. You are not expected to anticipate the needs of every prospective pupil but you are required to think about and take reasonable and proportionate steps to overcome barriers that may impede pupils with different kinds of disabilities.

For example: 

while it may be appropriate for you to provide large print for a pupil with a visual impairment, you would not be expected to have Braille devices standing ready.  

What is a substantial disadvantage?

A disadvantage that is more than minor or trivial is called a ‘substantial disadvantage’. The level of disadvantage created by a lack of reasonable adjustments is measured in comparison with what the position would be if the disabled pupil in question did not have a disability.

You will need to take into account a number of factors when considering whether or not the disadvantage is substantial such as:

  • the time and effort that might need to be expended by a disabled child  
  • the inconvenience, indignity or discomfort a disabled child might suffer  
  • the loss of opportunity, or the diminished progress a disabled child might make in comparison with his or her peers who are not disabled.

For example:

A deaf pupil is advised by the work experience coordinator that it would be better for her to remain at school rather than go on work experience as it might be ‘too difficult’ for her to manage. The school does not take any steps to help her find a placement and she misses the opportunity taken by the rest of her classmates. This would be a substantial disadvantage.  

The duty to change a provision, criterion or practice

These terms are not defined but in general they relate to how the education and other benefits, facilities and services are provided and cover all of your arrangements, policies, procedures and activities.

Where a provision, criterion or practice places disabled pupils at a substantial disadvantage in accessing education and any benefit, facility or service, you must take such steps as it is reasonable to take in all the circumstances to ensure the provision, criterion or practice no longer has such an effect. This might mean waiving a criterion or abandoning a practice altogether but often will involve just an extension of the flexibility and individual approach that most schools already show to their pupils.

For example:

A school has been allocated three places for students to represent the school at a national youth conference on the environment. The school decides to hold a debate on the topic to select the three pupils who will attend the conference. This places a pupil with a nervous system disorder at a significant disadvantage as he has trouble communicating verbally. The school modifies the criteria to enable that pupil to submit his views and ideas on the issue in writing. This is likely to be a reasonable adjustment to the school’s practice.  

When is it reasonable for a school to have to make adjustments?

A useful starting point when determining what a reasonable adjustment might be is to consider how to ensure that disabled pupils can be involved in every aspect of school life. Often effective and practical adjustments involve little or no cost or disruption.

For example:

A teacher always addresses the class facing forward to ensure that a pupil with hearing difficulties is able to lip-read. This is an example of a simple reasonable adjustment.  

A primary school introduces a playground buddy system and a friendship bench which creates a supportive and friendly place for disabled pupils during breaks. This is an example of an effective but easy reasonable adjustment.

Where disabled pupils are placed at a substantial disadvantage by a provision, criterion or practice or the absence of an auxiliary aid, you must consider whether any reasonable adjustment can be made to overcome that disadvantage.

You should not expect disabled pupils to suggest adjustments but if they do you should consider whether those adjustments would help to overcome the disadvantage and whether the suggestions are reasonable. It is good practice for schools to work with pupils and their parents in determining what reasonable adjustments can be made.  

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