Accessible documents policy

This policy explains how accessible the documents Department for Education (DfE) publishes on GOV.UK are.


This accessibility statement applies to PDFs, spreadsheets, presentations and other types of document. It doesn’t cover content published on GOV.UK as HTML: the main GOV.UK accessibility statement covers that.

Using our documents

DfE publishes documents in a range of formats, including PDFs, spreadsheets (Excel, ODS and CSV formats) and Microsoft Word documents.

We want as many people as possible to be able to use these documents. For example, when we produce a document we make sure to:

  • tag headings and other parts of the document properly so screen readers can understand the page structure
  • include alternative text alongside images so people who cannot see them understand what they’re there for
  • avoid using tables except when we’re presenting data
  • write in plain English

How accessible our documents are

New documents we publish and documents you need to download or fill in to access one of the services we provide should be fully accessible.

However, we know that some of our older documents (published before 23 September 2018) are not accessible. For example, some of them:

  • are not tagged up properly and don’t contain proper headings
  • are not written in plain English
  • use colour to indicate meaning
  • contain images and diagrams that do not contain alternative text
  • are scanned documents and are not marked up in a way that allows screen reader users to understand them

These types of documents are exempt from the regulations, so we do not currently have any plans to make them accessible.

But if you need to access information in one of these document types, you can contact us and ask for an alternative format.

What to do if you cannot use one of our documents

If you cannot use a document in the format we’ve published, email us at alternative.formats@education.gov.uk.

We’ll consider the request and reply within 5 working days with an alternative format or to let you know when you can expect to receive it.

Reporting accessibility problems with one of our documents

We’re always looking to improve the accessibility of our documents. If you find any problems that are not listed on this page or you think we’re not meeting accessibility requirements, email us at alternative.formats@education.gov.uk.

Let us know the details of the document you were trying to access and why you could not access it.

Enforcement procedure

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is responsible for enforcing the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 (the ‘accessibility regulations’). If you’re not happy with how we respond to your enquiry or complaint, contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS).

Technical information about the accessibility of our documents

DfE is committed to making our documents accessible, in accordance with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

The documents we publish are partially compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1 AA standard, due to the non-compliances listed below.

Non-accessible content

Non-compliance with the accessibility regulations

Some of our documents are not yet fully accessible. The accessibility issues, the criteria they fail on and when they’ll be fixed is provided in the ‘Details’ section of the GOV.UK page they have been published on.

The content listed is non-accessible for the following reasons.

Success criterion 1.1.1: non-text content

Some of our documents have diagrams and/or tables. Some of these do not have a text alternative, so the information in them isn’t available to people using a screen reader. This doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.1.1 (non-text content).

Success criterion 1.3.1: info and relationships

Some of our documents do not identify headings, lists or data tables correctly. This means users using screen readers may not be able to follow the structure of a document, which in turn may affect their ability to access and understand the information. This doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.3.1 (info and relationships).

Success criterion 1.3.2 meaningful sequence

Some of our documents have an incorrect reading order. This is mostly on pages where charts and images and their alternative text are presented after text that follows it. This may confuse or disorient users when assistive technology reads the content in the wrong order. This doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.3.2 (meaningful sequence).

Success criterion 1.3.3: sensory characteristics

Some of our documents use sensory characteristics, such as colour, shape, or size, to convey information. This means users with visual access needs may not be able to understand the information. This doesn’t meet the WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.3.3 (sensory characteristics).

Success criterion 1.4.1: use of colour

Colour is used to convey meaning in some of our documents, for instance in spreadsheets to show themes, categories or deadlines. This means users with visual impairments will not be able to understand the meaning the colour is supposed to convey. This doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.4.1 (sensory characteristics).

Success criterion 1.4.3: contrast

Some of our documents has text that have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. This means some users will find it difficult to read. This doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.4.3 (contrast).

Success criterion 1.4.5: images of text

Some of our documents contain images of text to convey information, rather than plain text. This means users either using a text-only browser or using assistive technology may not be able to understand the image of text. This doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.4.5 (images of text).

Success criterion 2.4.2: page title

Some of our documents and pages do not have titles that describe the topic or purpose of the page. This is often the case where we have older pages created some time ago. This makes it hard for users to navigate and find the content they need. This doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 2.4.2 (page title).

Some links in our documents do not contain context in the link text. This makes it hard for users using assistive technology to understand what the link is for, and where they would be directed to if clicked. This doesn’t meet the WCAG 2.1 success criterion 2.4.4 (link purpose (in context)).

Disproportionate burden

We’ve assessed that it would be a disproportionate burden to fix all statistics documents published and/or updated since 23 September 2018.

We have identified that there are some statistics documents with multiple accessibility issues. These include:

  • complex tables with merged cells that may be read in the wrong order (WCAG success criterion 1.3.2, meaningful sequence)
  • missing alternative text (WCAG success criterion 1.1.1, non-text content)
  • use of colour to denote meaning (WCAG success criterion 1.4.1, sensory characteristics)
  • headings, lists or data tables not identified correctly (WCAG success criterion 1.3.1, info and relationships)

We’ve assessed that the time and cost of changing all our statistics documents from September 2018 would be a disproportionate burden on our teams. We’ve assessed the cost to the organisation against the benefit to users to be minimal considering the frequency of use, previous requests for accessible formats, and the relevance of superseded releases.

We’ve recently developed a statistics dissemination platform, Explore Education Statistics (EES), which is fully compliant. Since May 2020, we’ve published the majority of our statistical publications on EES and will continue to upload historic publications where possible. We will ensure that all new statistical releases are accessible on either EES or GOV.UK.

You can email us at alternative.formats@education.gov.uk for more details.

Content that’s not within the scope of the accessibility regulations

Many of our older PDFs and Word documents do not meet accessibility standards - for example, they may not be structured so they’re accessible to a screen reader. This does not meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 4.1.2 (name, role, value).

Some of our PDFs and Word documents are essential to providing our services. For example, we have PDFs with information on how users can access our services, and forms published as Word documents. The majority of these have been either fixed or replaced by HTML.

The accessibility regulations do not require us to fix PDFs or other documents published before 23 September 2018 if they’re not essential to providing our services. For example, we do not plan to fix all of our research reports.

Any new PDFs or Word documents we publish will meet accessibility standards.

How we tested our documents

DfE last tested a sample of our documents in September 2019.

We tested 90 pieces of content including:

  • PDF documents using Adobe Acrobat Pro XI, running a full accessibility check, followed by manual checks where needed
  • spreadsheets using Excel’s inbuilt accessibility checker and a manual check
  • Word documents using Word’s inbuilt accessibility checker and a manual check

Documents were in scope for testing if they were either:

  • published after 23 September 2018
  • updated after 23 September 2018
  • potentially part of an active admin function – such as content classified as forms

We excluded items that already had an attachment flagged as inaccessible from our list.

We then tested 5 of each content type. Where there had been 5 or more published since 23 September 2018 we tested the top 5 based on page views. For some less well used content types we were not able to test 5 items.

We have completed more detailed checks on documents published or updated between 23 September 2018 and 31 December 2019.

Since November 2019, we’ve checked the accessibility of all new and updated documents and made any necessary changes before they have been published. We are continuing with spot checks on these documents to check they’re accessible.

What we’re doing to improve accessibility

We’re improving accessibility by:

  • working with colleagues across DfE to improve awareness and understanding about accessibility and what they need to do to meet the regulations
  • encouraging the use of accessible HTML content to meet the needs of our audience
  • converting existing documents to HTML content focusing on our most used content
  • updating our document templates and ensuring they’re used for any content in non-HTML format (for example, Word, Excel or ODS)
  • providing training and guidance to GOV.UK publishers on how to check documents are accessible, with a weekly meeting to focus on sharing and solving any issues
  • including accessibility as part of our ‘second pair of eyes’ checking process before publishing
  • auditing content published since January 2020 to identify where improvements can be made
  • completing ‘spot checks’ on recently published documents to ensure they are accessible
  • providing an OpenDocument version of Word and Excel documents, where possible
  • publishing data in CSV files, where possible

This page was prepared on 23 September 2020.