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Equal opportunities

Equal opps

When writing an essay about equal opportunities in school, it is important to be aware that this means giving all children the best possible opportunities to achieve their potential in the classroom.

This will not necessarily mean treating all children ‘equally’ or every child achieving ‘the same’. Some will need special, or different, levels of support or challenge. For teachers, this means planning for effective learning for all pupils - irrespective of disability, heritage, special educational needs, social group, gender, physical or emotional needs, race or culture. 

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All schools should have an equal opportunities policy.
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All schools should have an equal opportunities policy. If you are using school experience to inform your essay, ensure that you read this and find out how the school monitors the impact of their policies and procedures on different groups (by race, gender and disability). 

The national curriculum statutory inclusion statement makes this very clear. It is the responsibility of the school to provide a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils, based on the programmes of study for each key stage in the national curriculum. The teacher’s responsibility is to minimise any obstacles to effective learning and plan for all children to participate in the curriculum and achieve the best that they can. This will help to ensure an inclusive classroom.

The national curriculum sets out three key principles that are essential for developing an inclusive curriculum, and ensuring that equal opportunities are met: 

  • setting suitable learning challenges 
  • responding to pupils' diverse learning needs 
  • overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils. 

Setting suitable learning challenges 

This involves teachers planning lessons and teaching in a way that takes into consideration the abilities and needs of the class, and enables children to achieve the learning objectives through a variety of approaches. High expectations of all children’s learning, differentiation and targeted work for individual children will be a feature of this approach. 

Responding to pupils' diverse needs 

The key to maintaining high expectations of children’s learning is to get to know the children well, and focus upon what it is that they can do. Some children will need extra support if they are struggling with their learning, and others might need to have extension activities. Differentiation will be essential to support children’s learning. This might take the form of differentiated input from the teacher, differentiated tasks set for the children, use of a variety of resources to support children’s needs, support from others in the class – including other children or different expectations in terms of outcome. 

The national curriculum clearly states that teachers should respond to pupils' diverse needs through carefully considering the role that the following play: 

  • effective learning environments
  • ensuring children are motivated and concentrate
  • teaching approaches that ensure equality of opportunity
  • making use of appropriate assessment approaches
  • setting children (achievable) targets for learning. 

Overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils 

To overcome potential barriers teachers will, for example, have to take into consideration the following specific needs of children, and how these might affect children’s approaches to learning:

  • SEN (e.g. Asperger Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), general learning difficulties etc)
  • difficulties with communication, language and literacy
  • behaviour difficulties
  • physical impairment
  • emotional difficulties
  • English as an additional language (EAL)
  • race and ethnicity
  • religious belief
  • gender issues
  • social background
  • ability.   

Teachers will also need to be aware of what children bring to their learning, from home and their prior experiences. They need to ensure that children from different cultures, with different religions and worldviews, have full access to the curriculum. They need to ensure that their cultures are reflected in the classroom environment, and that no child is inhibited in their learning because of gender. 

Consideration of the following issues might assist the teacher in planning for an inclusive curriculum, and ensuring equal opportunities for all.

  • Employing multi-sensory teaching and learning approaches (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, tactile).
  • Adapting the classroom to suit the needs of individuals: sitting a child with ADHD away from distractions; having quiet work areas for those who need it; sitting a child with visual impairment where they can clearly see the interactive whiteboard; having necessary resources available for children; ensuring wheelchair access, where appropriate.
  • Planning an accessible curriculum for all (are learning objectives achievable for all? Is the work relevant, contextualised and meaningful to the children? Is work effectively differentiated so that all children can achieve their potential?).
  • Differentiating - adapting resources to support learning: large print on written resources for children with visual impairment; visual clues and bilingual texts to support tasks for children with EAL; clear routines and timetables for the day for children with Asperger Syndrome; books and resources to support and motivate both genders; extension activities for gifted and talented children.
  • Giving consideration for the emotional well-being of children (remember that teachers are in the business of educating the ‘whole’ child, and a happy and motivated child will achieve more in the classroom).
  • Managing disabilities (find out what the nature of the disability is. What are the child’s specific needs likely to be? How might you support or facilitate the child’s learning?).   

In conclusion, equal opportunities, and inclusive practice in the classroom involves careful planning, by all professionals concerned, to ensure effective learning opportunities for all children.

Relevant Acts and documentation concerning equal opportunities

  • The Race Relations Act (RRA), 1976
  • Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000)
  • Disability Rights Commission Act, 1999
  • The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), 1995
  • Disability Discrimination Act (2005)
  • Education Act (1997)
  • Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001)
  • The Sex Discrimination Act (SDA), 1975 (extended and amended 1986)   

Relevant bodies

  • Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
  • Runnymede Trust
  • The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)
  • The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) (2000)   

Resources