Welcome another blog post in our EDI mini-series! Here, we focus on the national data we gathered during our 2020-21 review of staff EDI to share how people with specific protected characteristics experience working in our schools - with this week’s highlight being focusing on disability in schools.
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. We reviewed the experience of over 16,000 staff members from 381 schools, 33 central trust teams, and 50 trusts. We asked these staff members about the whole workplace experience, from recruitment to on-the-job experiences and advancement, looking at how people with different protected characteristics feel about their time working in schools and trusts. These included sexual orientation, ethnicity and race, gender, religion, and disability, the latter of which is the focus of this piece.
Interestingly 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. For example, Citizens Advice has a great post on why "schools must not discriminate against a pupil because of their disability," and gov.uk's landing page provides fantastic signposting for SEND education, including the green paper published earlier this year. Yet, 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?
14% of disabled staff think their background and identity might be a barrier to progression, which is more than double the proportion of non-disabled staff who feel the same.
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?
Our research showed that while most staff felt comfortable with the recruitment process, there's more to be done to ensure that groups with different protected characteristics are supported and comfortable throughout the recruitment process. For example, 65% 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 are also pretty confident that recruitment decisions are free from bias, with 8 in 10 stating their confidence. However, just 6 in 10 disabled staff feel confident.
How confident are you that recruitment decisions are free from bias in your workplace?
Overall, our research showed that only just over half of all staff, 57%, surveyed feel confident that decisions impacting promotions are made without bias in their workplace, with the experience for disabled staff worse than the rest of the staff body. When we looked further into the topic of promotions, we found that more than 4 in 10 disabled staff would not feel comfortable applying for a promotion they were formally qualified for.
How comfortable would you feel applying for a promotion that you were formally qualified for in this organisation?
In addition to experiences and challenges relating to equality, diversity, and inclusion in their day-to-day work, we also asked respondents about career prospects in their school or trust, and their recruitment experience when joining the organisation. Here we found that less than half of disabled staff feel that advancing their career in their current organisation is compatible 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?
More than three-quarters of non-disabled staff feel comfortable discussing additional support with their line manager, compared to less than two-thirds of disabled staff. 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. For example, one respondent remarked that,
"From induction day onwards, there wasn't as much communication as I'd have liked. It made it difficult as a neurodivergent person as I had to ask questions to people to ensure I understood. I was also asked to introduce myself to new people without support which is quite overwhelming."
It's listening to experiences such as these 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
Our data shows that the education industry needs to represent and be accessible to all, as it currently isn't, and there's a disparity in experiences. As Ruth Golding, Founder of DisabilityEd UK, commented in our report, "Every disabled person will tell you ableism is rife, every non-disabled person will disagree. "
That's why it's essential to listen to those with lived experiences of disabilities to find out what your organisation does or doesn't do well. For instance, what non-disabled people might think treats everyone equally may actually be harming their attempts at the inclusive environment they set out to create. Ruth Golding describes in our report by saying:
"There is also an important distinction between treating people equally and treating people fairly. For disabled people, treating people equally – and making no reasonable adjustments for them – can mean that in practice, disabled people are not being treated fairly. 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."
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. We recommend heading to the DisabilityEd UK website, as they are an organisation that raises awareness of how to make education accessible by supporting disabled educators to get the reasonable adjustments they need.
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.