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Lack of disabled teachers in schools

The extra costs entailed in employing staff with disabilities prove too great for many schools, depriving pupils of important role models.

Angmering school, in Littlehampton, West Sussex, took a bit of a risk by taking on Tom Kent as a student teacher on placement as Tom is profoundly deaf and works with an interpreter. "I was open-minded, but unsure," says Lianne Allison, the assistant head. "I needed to see him interact with the students first. He came and did a trial lesson. He was outstanding, making sure he had eye contact and using his face and body to express himself. The students responded brilliantly."

Kent, 30, is one of relatively few disabled people currently training to be a teacher in this country. According to figures from the Department for Education, less than 1% of the teaching workforce has a disability. But the statistics are unreliable as not everyone admits to being disabled when completing forms and questionnaires.

Those numbers are likely to fall further. As school budgets decline, the costs of employing disabled staff and making building modifications and equipment available may prove too great for many schools, depriving pupils – both those with special needs and the able-bodied – of important role models.

Prof Rita Egan, a retired teacher-trainer in ICT PGCE at the University of Bedfordshire, and a wheelchair user, said neither schools nor the teacher training system were equipped for teachers with disabilities.

Egan, who submitted written evidence to a Commons select committee inquiry on the training of teachers three years ago, said successive governments had not encouraged disabled people to apply to teach, which had led to thousands of highly qualified and able candidates not considering teaching as a career option.

"New schools are built to accommodate disabled pupils, but not teachers. So, you might get larger classrooms for wheelchairs, and specialist equipment for the sight and hearing impaired, but the teacher may still be perched on a podium they can't climb up," she says. "Tiered ICT suites look good, but are useless for disabled people."

She has known disabled students give up teacher training in frustration. In another case, she says, a disabled teacher was paid off from her job because this was cheaper than the school spending tens of thousands of pounds adapting it and buying in the specialist equipment she needed.

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