Agenda item

Cabinet Report - Schools' Accessibility Strategy

Report from the Strategic Director for Children and Young People’s Services.




That Cabinet:


1.    Approve the School Accessibility Strategy.


2.    Approve the Capital Accessibility Funding Framework and schools’ accessibility application process.


3.    To provide a future report to Cabinet to approve the outcome of the application for the capital funding.




The Assistant Director for Education and Skills introduced the report. He highlighted that all schools have a statutory duty to provide reasonable adjustments for their pupils to make sure disabled students are not discriminated against. There were three main categories of adjustments that schools were expected to make for children: improving access to the curriculum, improving physical access to buildings including providing specialist equipment and improving access to information.


The updated Rotherham Schools’ Accessibility Strategy identified the statutory responsibilities of schools to support their pupils and the support available to schools from the local authority in relation to their own accessibility planning.


The Assistant Director outlined that consultation had taken place across the sector to co-produce the policy, including Rotherham Parent-Carers Forum, Guiding Voices and other voluntary sector organisations. Schools had been encouraged to self-assess their own provision, develop action plans to improve accessibility to meet the requirements as set out in legislation to build Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) sufficiency in Rotherham.


It was detailed that there was a matched capital funding stream and schools were encouraged to bid for resources to meet the needs of children and young people to enable them to access mainstream schools. It was noted that while the funding framework would have an immediate benefit to the cohort of children and young people for whom reasonable adjustments had been made, there would be a legacy for the schools to have accessible buildings longer term.


The SEND Transformation Project Lead outlined that officers had worked closely with mainstream and special schools to assess capacity. This included areas offering support through the inclusion service particularly around access to the curriculum and different teaching methods and models.


The Chair invited the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People to comment. She outlined that the Council had made a commitment to improve SEND provision for children and young people. The funding secured would empower schools to meet the needs of children and young people within their local communities. It was noted that aside from the financial benefits of reducing out-of-authority placements, it was important for children and young people to have local connections and build a sense of belonging, particularly as they move into adulthood.


The report was accompanied by an action plan, which detailed key aims of the strategy and how these would be delivered and evidenced.


The Chair invited questions from the Board Members and a discussion of the following issues ensued.


Further details were sought on the level of funding (£375k pa) and if this was sufficient to meet the access requirements of the school estate. It was highlighted that there was approximately £1.5m allocated over a four-year period. Outline research suggested that the level of funding required to make adaptations for a single school was around £10k. There was also an expectation that this would be matched by academy trusts or maintained schools. The intention was this would be ‘seed’ funding to provide bespoke spaces to meet individual need. It was noted that the level of engagement with trusts had increased, with more schools coming forward to enhance their SEND provision.


With reference to the national SEND improvement plan, it was outlined that Rotherham closely aligned with priorities articulated in the plan. Of particular note was the partnership and co-production elements in Rotherham’s approach which had been cited as best practice.


Clarification was sought if there was flexibility within the scheme to allocate funding. It was highlighted that there was a good understanding of the types of applications that may be submitted so if a school applies late in the academic year, the application may be brought forward in the early part of the next financial year. It was stated that the key element of this programme was to demonstrate positive outcomes in respect of high levels of inclusion, modifying improvements for individual pupils, including those with autism. It was outlined that the process would be monitored closely.


Further details were requested about how schools were encouraged to apply for funding to meet the needs of children who may not yet have a formal diagnosis. The Assistant Director outlined that were parents/carers had a preference for a particular school, the authority would work with the school to provide guidance on their legal responsibilities.


Clarification was sought how this provision would meet the needs of children who may self-identify as neuro-diverse within a school setting but this was not acknowledged by the parent/carer. It was outlined that work had been undertaken within the secondary setting to make provision for students who may not ‘fit-in’ with assessment pathways. There would be a small cohort of pupils that the provision would have an immediate impact against the outcomes as set out in education, health and care plan. In addition, school leaders have identified other students that sit underneath that there would also benefit from access to provision.


In relation to social, mental and emotional health, details were sought on what support was given to pupils at times of higher stress and anxiety (e.g. exams). It was clarified that the expectation was that schools would do what was in their power to meet needs.


Details were sought on how the process of determining whether a child was educated in mainstream or special provision. The Assistant Director highlighted that there was a SEN panel who assessed placements.


Clarification was sought about the self-assessment process for funding application and if support was available from the authority to assist with bids. It was noted that some of the school estate included older buildings which were more difficult to adapt. There was a strong SENCO network (Special Education Needs Co-ordinator) with a clear emphasis around equality and making sure that all children had access to their local community resources, including schools. There was a high level of due diligence in reviewing applications, and close liaison with colleagues in Regeneration and Environment Services, utilising their expert knowledge on building adaptation. An example was given of a secondary school who had made space for students with social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) within the mainstream provision.


Further details were sought on the school admission process. The Assistant Director agreed to meet with the Elected Member to discuss the concerns.


The Chair thanked the Cabinet Member and officers for the report.




1)    That Cabinet be advised that the following recommendations be supported.


That Cabinet:


1.    Approve the School Accessibility Strategy.

2.    Approve the Capital Accessibility Funding Framework and schools’ accessibility application process.

3.    To provide a future report to Cabinet to approve the outcome of the application for the capital funding.

Supporting documents: