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  • Chris McMillan

Disabled teachers being 'sidelined' in drive for more inclusive schools


28th January 2021

Disabled teachers being 'sidelined' in drive for more inclusive schools

University of Cambridge

One of the first academic studies to examine the working lives of disabled teachers in England has called for 'urgent change' after finding evidence of significant workplace discrimination and barriers to their career progression.

The University of Cambridge research concludes that disabled teachers remain 'on the margins' of a drive for greater inclusivity in schools. It draws on in-depth interviews with several teachers to suggest ways this could improve. In particular, the study identifies the need to encourage more disabled people into teaching, highlighting the skills, knowledge and empathy they can bring to classrooms.

The authors suggest that disabled teachers continue to experience discrimination not because of the innate prejudice of colleagues, but because of the general pressure on schools created by various performance targets, which makes it difficult for them to accommodate staff with different needs. This may explain the fairly overt discrimination that some interviewees recounted: including a case where one teacher was told to 'grit her teeth and get on with it' when she requested time off work, and another in which a staff member was disciplined after devising workarounds for systems that she couldn't use.

The study itself is small, offering a snapshot of disabled teachers' working lives using pre-existing evidence and detailed interviews with 10 professionals. In part, this reflects the under-representation of disabled people in teaching: the last time the Government recorded their numbers (in 2016), of the data returned, just 0.5% of teachers self-reported as disabled in stark contrast to the estimated 16% of working age disabled adults in the general population.

It is, however, also one of the only studies of its kind. The authors state that disabled teachers are 'typically marginalised within research, as well as mainstream education', and express the hope that their work will make the case for further evidence-gathering to inform policy and practice.

The study was carried out by Professor Nidhi Singal and Dr Hannah Ware, from the Cambridge Network for Disability and Education Research (CaNDER), in the University's Faculty of Education.

Dr Ware said: "There has been a significant focus on making mainstream schools more inclusive for disabled children and others. However, disabled teachers, who are entrusted with enacting that ethos, seem to have been side-lined in those efforts. These findings raise a serious question: How can we possibly promote inclusivity in schools if it only extends to children?"


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