University of Edinburgh
 

SSC response to Scottish Executive Consultation: The Teachers Registration (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2004

“To abandon the requirements that a person must satisfy the medical officer of the relevant institution that (s)he is medically fit to teach, a) before being admitted to a course of initial teacher education, and b) before being recommended by the relevant institution for registration as a teacher by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.”

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/consultations/education/medicallyfit.pdf

The SSC warmly welcomes this long overdue proposal. This response takes particular account of the ways in which visually impaired, deaf and deafblind people have been negatively affected in the past by these requirements: the removal of the requirements will constitute an important step in bringing about equity for these groups.

Experiences of Visually Impaired, Deaf and Deafblind persons
As suggested in Paragraph 3 of the document, the organisation and administration of the medical examination process has been inconsistent across the seven universities that offer initial teacher education courses. What is more, it is likely that practices have been inconsistent even within the same institution, as they have been re-interpreted by different individuals and groups at different times. The regulations as they stand are based solely on a medical model of disability and take no account of the rights of the individuals concerned or of the principles of equity and social justice.

It is essential that universities take full account of access requirements in relation to visually impaired, deaf and deafblind people. This is, in part, what seems to be implied by the comment in Paragraph 6 that:

“In recent years the main purpose of medical examinations has moved away from blocking applicants, to identifying those who might have a problem and offering them help. The medical profession and employers should be trying to assist all those who have an illness or disability to achieve their ambition as best they can rather than acting as a barrier.”

Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. Moreover, for these groups of people, the issue is primarily one of access provision, rather than ‘help’ per se. As pointed out in Paragraph 11, the Disability Discrimination Act, 1995 as amended, requires educational institutions not to discriminate against disabled students by:

• treating them “less favourably” than other people, or;
• failing to make a “reasonable adjustment” when they are placed at a “substantial disadvantage” compared to other people for a reason relating to their disability.

It is made clear in the legislation that the Act applies to all services ‘provided wholly or mainly for students’ and these services include enrolment and admissions.

There are some inherent difficulties in relation to the labels applied to certain individuals and groups. The Deaf community in Scotland, for example, views its members as belonging to a linguistic minority. The type of arrangements required within Higher Education are, from this point of view, essentially linguistic access arrangements. However, the Deaf community does, on the whole, accept that the legislation relating to disability can afford some protection from discrimination, even though members of the Deaf community would prefer such protection to be enshrined within linguistic rights legislation.

One real example of a discriminatory interpretation of the existing medical requirements provides an indication of the problem. In this case, a Deaf applicant was required to take a class in a secondary school prior to entering the initial teacher education course, so that the institution could be assured that the individual was able to control a class and therefore was ‘fit to teach’. Such a requirement, which no other applicant had to undertake, was clearly discriminatory and would now be regarded as such within the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) legislation.

Employers and Disability Discrimination

It is the case that attitudes towards medical conditions, disability and minority groups have changed. There is recognition, now enshrined in legislation, that individuals and groups must not be treated unfairly or placed at a disadvantage as against their peers.

We would also like to stress that we should be developing strategies for enabling more visually impaired, deaf and deafblind people to enter the profession of teaching. Unfortunately, too often in the past, these groups have not only faced obstacles within their earlier education, but also in their attempts to gain access to Higher Education. Such individuals are likely to be able to make an important contribution to the teaching profession.

It is essential that visually impaired, deaf and deafblind people are enabled to take up employment opportunities. The current barriers they face in working within education should be removed, particularly by ensuring that all appropriate access arrangements are in place. Employers and local authorities should ensure, for example, through developing appropriate accessibility strategies, that visually impaired, deaf and deafblind people are encouraged to take up posts within educational institutions at all levels.

Mary Brennan
Reader in Deaf Studies
Scottish Sensory Centre

Addendum

We are delighted to report that the Minister for Education and Young People has now considered the responses to this consultation. The result is that the current regulations regarding medical fitness to teach will be abolished from the 1st October 2004.