Educational issues

The Disability Discrimination Act (Education)

The provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) have been extended to include education, making it unlawful for education and training providers and other related services to discriminate against disabled people. This amending legislation was brought in as the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001, but became Part 4 of DDA legislation and implemented in September 2002. The post-16 sections of the Act apply to the following bodies in England, Wales and Scotland17

  • higher and further education institutions, including 6th form colleges
  • local education authorities and education authorities providing adult and community education
  • youth services (except voluntary groups such as Scouts, etc.)
  • other ‘designated’ institutions (including specialist further education residential colleges).

For the purposes of the Act a person is regarded as having a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Although dyslexia does not always affect a student’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities in their educational setting because they often develop compensatory strategies, if dyslexic students cannot do this for any reason the effects can be disabling and would therefore come within the terms of the Act.

Under the requirements of the Act, educational institutions and other responsible bodies must not treat a disabled person ‘less favourably’ than a non-disabled person for reasons related to his/her disability without ‘justification’. For example, it is likely to be unlawful for a university to turn down a dyslexic student who applies to do a degree in English, saying that they do not take dyslexic students on English degrees. This may be considered ‘less favourable treatment. However, an institution may be able to justify less favourable treatment in certain situations, e.g. where it is necessary to maintain academic or other course-specific standards.

Responsible bodies are also required by the Act to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that a disabled student is not placed at a ‘substantial disadvantage’. Making ‘adjustments’ means that if a disabled person is at a ‘substantial disadvantage’, the education provider is required to take reasonable steps to alleviate that disadvantage. This might include:

  • changing admissions, administrative and examination procedures
  • changing course content, including work placements
  • changing physical features and premises
  • changing teaching arrangements
  • providing additional teaching
  • providing communication and support services
  • offering information in alternative formats
  • training staff.

For example, if a dyslexic student who has writing difficulties and needs to tape-record lectures is not permitted to do so, this is likely to be unlawful because it constitutes a failure to make ‘reasonable adjustments’.

Many educational institutions have Disability Statements, which state what the institution offers for disabled students. However, if particular support is not mentioned within the statement, this does not mean it cannot be provided. Institutions are expected to make reasonable adjustments to all facilities available for disabled students. Disability statements are available on the institution’s website or direct from the institution.

Some adult students will continue to receive support from existing sources such as the Disabled Students Allowances (DSA) in higher education. In such cases, the institution may not be expected to cover the same disability support that is met by another source. However, if not all the needs of a disabled person are met by other sources then the institution would be expected to provide reasonable additional support.

Further education students should first approach the college about extra disability support. The college should consider your needs and, where reasonable, make adjustments to meet them. If the college is unable to meet those needs (e.g. because of an ‘unreasonable cost’) the student can also try to gain funding for disability support from charitable trusts.

17 Institutions in Northern Ireland are not covered within this part of the Act at the moment, but reviews are currently taking place to include these as well.

Resolving disputes

If a student believes he or she has been discriminated against because of their dyslexia, the issue should first be raised with an appropriate person in their institution (e.g. disability coordinator, student union’s welfare officer). They may be able to resolve the issue or explain the institution’s internal complaints / appeals procedure. Remember that LADS Plus is only a screening system and does not purport to provide a diagnosis of dyslexia, so if a student is minded to take a dispute further (e.g. to Court) then further professional evidence of their dyslexia will be necessary, e.g. from a suitably qualified psychologist.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which was established in 2000, can offer legal advice and arrange conciliation between the institution and the student. The case can also be taken directly to the County Court (in England and Wales) or a Sheriff Court (in Scotland). The outcomes of this may include compensation for injury to feelings, an injunction (in England and Wales) or an interdict (in Scotland) to prevent further discriminatory practices by the institution. The aims of the Disability Rights Commission are to:

  • work towards eliminating discrimination against disabled people.
  • promote equal opportunities for disabled people in the provision of services.
  • provide information and advice to anyone with rights or obligations under the Act (including disabled people, employers and service providers).
  • supply assistance and support to disabled litigants.
  • prepare new/revised codes of practice and encourage good practice.
  • keep the working of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) under review.
  • carry out formal investigations into discrimination and ensure compliance with the law.
  • arrange for a conciliation service between service providers and disabled people to help resolve disputes in regard to access to goods and services (Part 3) and education (Part 4).

The EHRC can also take offenders to Court. The Court may award remedies, including compensation for financial loss or injury to feelings, an injunction to forbid a repetition of the discriminatory act, and a declaration as to the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved. For further information about the EHRC, visit the website

Other useful sources of information and advice include the following (see Section 7 for address details):

Citizens’ Advice Bureau — see local telephone directory for address.

Community Legal Service

Department for Education and Skills (DfES)

Disability Law Service Disability Rights

Commission Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities

Education of offenders

Recent independent research studies have indicated that dyslexia is three to four times more common amongst prisoners and offenders than in the general population (BDA, 2005; Dyslexia Institute, 2005). Dyslexia increases the risks of people failing educationally, of leaving school without qualifications and consequently struggling to find employment – factors that are all associated with offending. When dyslexia remains undetected and unaddressed the person does not simply lack the ability to read and write. There can also be huge emotional burdens because the person does not understand their learning difficulties. Hatred of school and teachers easily develops into resentment of society and indifference to others.

The main focus of current initiatives in education of offender is an early, intense focus on assessment, advice and guidance, leading to the production of an individual learning plan that will cover the offender as s/he passes through the criminal justice system. The key features of this approach are outlined in The Offender’s Learning Journey (DfES, 2004) of which there are separate adult and juvenile versions, which is focused on developing the skills necessary to improve significantly an offender’s employability so that employment chances are greatly increased on release, leading to reduced re-offending. Dyslexia is mentioned in this document, in the context of an initial screening, diagnostic assessment and formal dyslexia assessment and support. Both the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyslexia Institute are currently exploring initiatives to improve support for offenders with dyslexia and to increase their employability (for address details see Section 7.1).