Many primary school pupils believe disabled people live tragic lives in which they cannot work and are unlikely to marry or have children, according to new research.
The Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, which conducted the research, found that many children at primary school have a poor understanding of disability and disabled people’s lives.
The research concluded that many schools were not doing enough to challenge these misconceptions, with children’s books and other learning materials often reinforcing inaccurate stereotypes.
The researchers found that only three in ten of the English primary schools surveyed were fulfilling their legal duty to have a disability equality scheme that mentions promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people.
And nearly one in four of the 136 schools that responded to the survey had not produced a disability equality scheme at all, and was not preparing one.
More than a fifth of the schools surveyed said they had no learning resources to help with teaching about disability.
As well as the survey, researchers also talked to groups of children in year two (aged six and seven) and year six (aged 10 and 11) in six schools.
Dr Angharad Beckett, who led the project, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said: “We found that, although some schools are tackling this issue, many schools are doing very little, sometimes nothing.”
But the researchers also found that more positive attitudes were easily generated once the issues around disability were explained to the children.
Dr Beckett said that most children by the age of 10 of 11 are able to understand the social model of disability, which explains that disability is caused by barriers in society and not the impairment itself.
She added: “When we talked to them at length we found that many were really shocked about how society effectively disables people, excluding them from many areas of life.”
The researchers concluded that schools need to obtain some of the good quality teaching resources that are available, realise that disability awareness can easily be built into the curriculum, and have the confidence to deal with the issues.
The researchers also concluded that schools need more support from the government and local authorities.
26 August 2009