This article has been published in Enabling Education 14
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Title: Bringing Disability Equality into the National Curriculum in England
Author: Rieser, R
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2010

Bringing Disability Equality into the National Curriculum in England

Richard Rieser

Under the 2005 Disability Discrimination Amendment Act, all government schools in England had a duty to promote equality for disabled people, eliminate harassment and promote positive attitudes towards disabled people. However, in 2008 it was noted that only about half of all schools in the country had a Disability Equality Scheme, and of these more than half were not promoting positive attitudes1. Schools that addressed disability equality did so in lessons such as Citizenship, but not across the whole curriculum. This is worrying, as disabled children face eight times the level of bullying and harassment as non-disabled children. Here Richard outlines a project to improve the promotion of disability equality within the curriculum.

The legal context
Recently, the Equalities Act 2010 has replaced the 2005 Disability Discrimination Amendment Act, but the need to develop positive attitudes in schools remains. From 2011, schools will no longer need a Disability Equality Scheme, but instead will develop a single equalities scheme, where they can choose their priorities. Schools will still be required ” … to foster good relations between persons who share protected characteristics (i.e. disabled) and persons who do not share it …” and to “… tackle prejudice and promote understanding”.

The 2005 Act specifically said that disability equality had to be based on the social model. The 2010 Act does not state this, leaving us all working harder to embed a social model perspective into schools. At least the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which is now law in the UK and 88 other countries, has a social model orientation. Article 8 requires governments to foster ” … at all levels of the education system, including in all children from an early age, an attitude of respect for the rights of persons with disabilities.” (Article 8 2b.)

Helping schools to improve their disability equality focus
The Qualification and Curriculum Development Authority (QCDA) asked me in late 2009 to find out what schools in England were doing to raise disability equality in the curriculum, and to work with them to develop good examples. Twenty-six schools took part, trying out ideas for bringing disability equality into the curriculum. We also filmed examples of good practice.

Examples from schools
In the participating schools, different year groups did activities such as:

  • Students participated in a disability equality week, followed by activities in Humanities lessons looking at impairment and the First World War, and what happened to disabled veterans.
  • In Science lessons students identified visible and invisible impairments and linked them to the different systems of the body.
  • In Maths students studied the mathematical basis of the Braille code and used Braille for message codes.
  • Students mapped their school, showing access barriers and solutions for blind people and wheelchair users; they then wrote to the local government about the barriers.
  • In English, students examined the social model for a non-fiction writing activity. When they started the class was evenly divided on their views, but by the end all favoured a social model approach.

Wider benefits
Teachers found that the work carried out for the project helped to engage pupils, especially those who usually found it difficult to concentrate – the work was fun and interesting. Teachers needed support to get started, but after a while they could adapt their curriculum planning to incorporate disability equality issues. This project only scratched the surface and I am trying to find other ways to work in depth with selected schools so that more lesson ideas and approaches can be shared on the internet.

You can find examples of the activities used in schools on the World of Inclusion website:

Richard Rieser is the Director of World of Inclusion.
Contact: or

1 Report to Secretary of State Impact of the Duty to Promote Disability Equality on Schools, 2008; An analysis of a London Boroughs Disability Equality Schemes, 2009