Last year, we put together an EDI mini-series exploring the data from our 2020-21 staff EDI review. Here, we delve into the national data from our recently released national benchmark for 2023/24 so far. Specifically, we explore how individuals with specific protected characteristics experience working in our schools, with a spotlight on disability this week.

Current Backdrop of Disability in England's School Staff

For those who don't know, in 2020-21, we ran England's most extensive study of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) among school staff.  Since then schools and trusts across England have completed our EDI survey each year. We survey about the entire workplace experience, from recruitment to on-the-job experiences and advancement. This explores how individuals with various protected characteristics perceive their time working in schools and trusts. These include sexual orientation, ethnicity and race, gender, religion, and disability, the latter of which is the focus of this piece. 

Exploring the Experiences of School Staff with Disabilities

While a quick search online for disability within England's schools tells you a lot about how being disabled changes the perspective of a pupil's time during education and there is plenty of research which explores this theme further. The experience of school staff with a disability seems an often overlooked experience. Despite 18% of the adult population in Britain having a long-term illness, impairment, or disability, only 0.5% of the workforce identifies as disabled; this may be why such issues go undiscussed. So in this post, we're using our data to highlight the experiences of those staff in England with disabilities.

What are the key differences between disabled and non-disabled staff experiences?

Since we started surveying in 2020/2021, 16% of disabled staff perceive potential barriers to progression based on their background and identity, more than twice the proportion among non-disabled staff.

These findings match research undertaken by the University of Cambridge, which states, "Disabled teachers in England face significant discrimination at work and barriers to career progression, a study warns." As a trust leader, this is a valuable factor to consider when hiring, considering people for promotions and creating leadership teams.

How likely is it that your background and identity might be a barrier to advancement in your current workplace?

The research findings suggest that, on the whole, most staff find the recruitment process comfortable. Yet, there's room for improvement to ensure individuals with different protected characteristics feel adequately supported during recruitment. For example, 63% of disabled staff felt comfortable discussing additional needs during the recruitment process, far lower than their non-disabled peers.

How comfortable did you feel discussing additional support you may require to complete this role?

Non-disabled staff express high confidence in unbiased recruitment decisions, with 8 in 10 stating their assurance in the process. However, just 6 in 10 disabled staff feel confident. 

Examining Workplace Confidence: Insights into Promotion Bias and Accessibility Challenges

Overall, our research indicates that 76% of surveyed staff feel confident that promotion decisions are made without bias in their workplace. Notably, disabled staff report a less positive experience compared to the rest of the staff body. Only 63% of staff who report being disabled feel that recruitment decisions are free from bias in their workplace, our research reveals.

How confident are you that recruitment decisions are free from bias in your workplace?

Beyond exploring daily experiences with equality, diversity, and inclusion, we also inquired about career prospects and recruitment experiences. This allowed us to gain a holistic understanding of respondents' professional journeys within their school or trust. Less than half of disabled staff believe advancing their career in their current organization aligns with their needs and responsibilities.

How confident are you that advancing your career in this organisation would be compatible with your personal needs and responsibilities?

When it comes to discussing additional support with their line managers, three-quarters of non-disabled staff feel at ease. However, a lower percentage, two-thirds, among disabled staff share the same level of comfort in such conversations. Knowing what additional support is needed can be difficult, as it can come in many different forms. From person to person, what this additional support looks like can be very different. 

It's listening to experiences through the collection of stakeholder feedback that help enable you to understand where your staff needs support! 

How comfortable do you feel discussing additional support or special arrangements with your line manager?

Lessons for Trust Leaders

Data reveals the education industry needs inclusive representation and accessibility. Disparities in experiences must be addressed. As Ruth Golding, Founder of DisabilityEd UK, commented in our EDI report, "Every disabled person will tell you ableism is rife, every non-disabled person will disagree. "

Listening to those with lived experiences of disabilities is crucial to understanding organisational strengths and weaknesses. What may appear equal to non-disabled individuals might hinder efforts for the inclusive environment they aim to foster. Ruth Golding describes in our report by saying:

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Series: Disability in Schools 


This infographic features a quote from Ruth Golding Founder of DisabilityEd UK which states: 

"If a person is a wheelchair user, their access needs would include a lift and not stairs. Stairs would be equal; a lift would be fair."

"Distinguishing between treating people equally and treating them fairly is crucial. For disabled individuals, equal treatment without reasonable adjustments may result in unfairness. For instance, a wheelchair user's access needs involve a lift, not stairs—making a lift fair, not merely equal."

If you as a trust or school leader would like to know more about how best to support your staff and ensure they get the best work experience possible. Visit DisabilityEd UK for guidance on creating accessible education by supporting disabled educators in obtaining necessary reasonable adjustments.

Or, if you'd like to find out more about how your disabled staff perceive their experience in your organisation learn more about taking part in our Staff Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey.