Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why Disability Should Hold No One Back from Leadership

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why Disability Should Hold No One Back from Leadership

Article excerpt

Headteacher Ruth Golding says that with sensible adaptations and a full knowledge of your rights, disability should hold no one back in teaching - whether they are leaders or teachers

During the third term of my PGCE, I found myself in hospital with a drip in my arm, fighting cellulitis. The same thing happened in my NQT year - I was in hospital again, too ill to go into school to work.

Born with lymphoedema, I had never considered myself as disabled. My previous role in social care had little effect on the condition, but long hours spent on my legs, teaching in different rooms, carrying various boxes and even writing on the board, all put physical demands on my body that made me disabled in a school environment.

There is no definitive data about the number of people with disabilities working in schools. It's estimated that 0.5 per cent of school staff have disabilities. This figure is well below the 16 per cent of adults who have disabilities in other kinds of work - perhaps because some teachers are reluctant to reveal a disability. Alternatively, this could suggest that people with disabilities do not view teaching and leadership as viable for them, or it could be because it's difficult for them to secure and maintain teaching positions.

There are challenges for both the school leader who works with colleagues with disabilities, as well as for the leader who has a disability. Under-representation in the workforce can mean that school leaders lack knowledge and understanding about disabilities, and are unable to meet people's needs. As a leader with a disability, there is the challenge of managing your condition, so that you remain effective - or when it's not going so well, maintaining your position as a strong leader within the school.

Even the fittest teachers crawl towards the end of term, thankful of the time off from the physical demands of teaching. A physical/psychological disability or long-term health condition causes additional difficulties; it can mean tiredness and exhaustion, additional time off and social stigma.

Leaders need to know their workforce: who has a disability, what symptoms does it present and what reasonable adjustments can be made? Meeting with your colleagues and asking them what could be done to help them at work is good practice.

In addition, familiarise yourself with the Equality Act. We all have a responsibility to know what the law is and to implement this legislation in the workplace. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has some extensive information and case studies about adjustments that can be made to enable people with disabilities to progress at work. …

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