Maintaining standards: promoting equality

Author/Producer Tony Brown/ESCalate
Published in Autumn 2007 newsletter
Date Published 23 October 2007
Pages 2


An overview of the DRC's recently published report on barriers that disabled people face when entering the caring professions


In its recently published report, Maintaining Standards: Promoting Equality[1] the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has taken a close look at the barriers that disabled people (including people with long-term health conditions) face when entering teaching, nursing, and social work.

The DRC looked at the situation in England, Scotland and Wales. Whilst there are variations in legislation and procedures between the three, the DRC is critical of the opportunities for and treatment of disabled people seeking employment in the teaching profession.

The DRC study covered the period 2006-2007 and looked at the difficulties posed by the statutory regulation of health in the three professions. As the DRC argues: ‘there should no longer be ‘no go’ areas for disabled people in 21st century Britain’. However for many disabled people this is the situation they find when seeking employment within many parts of the public sector.

We have found a culture in which disabled people are more likely to be asked “what’s wrong with you?” than “what can you contribute?”

The study identified more than seventy separate pieces of legislation and statutory guidance about requirements for “good health” or “physical and mental fitness” across teaching, nursing and social work.

Many were vague requirements and some were more restrictive for trainees than for trained practitioners. The DRC argues that the requirements and regulations have a deterrent effect on disabled people, discouraging them from seeking to join or remaining in these professions. Many of those with disability hide themselves away, are reluctant to talk about their disability and do not receive the support to which they are entitled. The support that they should get is often exactly what they need to ensure they can practise safely and effectively.

The DRC regards protection of the public as of the highest importance. However, instead of providing protection to the public, as many of the existing regulations set out to do, they do little more than provide a false sense of security. As a result of the study the DRC recommends that legislation, regulations and statutory guidance for good health or fitness of professionals is revoked, because of the negative effect on disabled people and the lack of public protection they actually offer.

The DRC report argues that disabled people have an important role to play in teaching and in the public services generally.

People who are disabled or have long-term health conditions have a wealth of skills and personal experiences that can enrich the work of the public services. A framework of professional standards of competence and conduct, coupled with effective management and rigorous monitoring of practice, is the best way to balance the aspirations of disabled people to make their contribution to British life and the protection of the public.

What most concerned the DRC in their study was that ten years on from the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), a lot of the legislation and guidance controlling access to teaching health and social work still fails to reflect the vision of DDA and often runs contrary to the requirements for disability equality.

Standards for ‘good health’ or ‘fitness’ determine who can enter and work within these professions. Some of these standards are explicitly set out in legislation, while others are found within guidance governing entry to education or employment. With the exception of social work and teaching in Scotland, there are generalised health standards in teaching, social work, nursing and other health professions across Great Britain. The conclusion of our investigation is that these standards have a negative impact upon disabled people’s access to these professions; they are often in conflict with the DDA (as amended in 2005); they lead to discrimination; and they deter and exclude disabled people from entry and from being retained. We therefore recommend that they are revoked.

Copies of the Report are available from:Disability RightsCommission HelplineFREEPOSTMID 02164Stratford upon AvonCV37 9BR


Maintaining Standards: Promoting Equality Professional regulation within nursing, teaching and social work and disabled people’s access to these professions, (2007) Disability Rights Commission

Research undertaken by the DRC for the study

David Ruebain, Jo Honigmann, Helen Mountfield and Camilla Parker (2006) Analysis of the statutory and regulatory frameworks and cases relating to fitness standards in nursing, teaching and social work.

Jane Wray, Helen Gibson, and Jo Aspland (2007) Research into assessments and decisions relating to ‘fitness’ in training, qualifying, and working within Teaching, Nursing and Social Work.

Janice Fong, Chih Hoong Sin, with Jane Wray, Helen Gibson, Jo Aspland and Data Captain Ltd. (2007) Assessments and decisions relating to ‘fitness’ for employment within teaching, nursing and social work: A survey of employers.

Nicky Stanley, Julie Ridley, Jill Manthorpe, Jessica Harris and Alan Hurst (2007) Disclosing Disability: Disabled students and practitioners in social work, nursing and teaching.

Chih Hoong Sin, Janice Fong, Abul Momin and Victoria Forbes (2007) The Disability Rights Commission’s formal investigation into fitness standards in the social work, nursing and teaching professions: Report on the call for evidence.