Placing pupils’ individual needs at the heart of SEND school design

15 October, 2020

Design plays a huge part in pupils’ performance, wellbeing and learning, and so this needs to be placed at the heart of any school design. However, with one in five children having special educational needs or disabilities (SEND), this is hugely amplified within SEND learning environments, where positive sensory experiences are critical in assisting staff and addressing pupils’ needs every day.

Although the number of SEND pupils is small relative to the total population of children and young people, costs of providing quality facilities that are equipped to address a complex range of needs remain high. Creating adequate provision needs to meet the challenge of addressing funding pressures, while creating inspiring SEND schools which support pupils’ needs and increase staff retention so as to maintain specialist teaching expertise.

Andrew Almond, partner and education lead at Pick Everard said: “Special education needs and disabilities are diverse and can mean pupils struggle in a range of areas, such as cognition and learning; behavioural, emotional and social characteristics; communication and interaction; and sensory or physical skills. It’s absolutely critical that education providers have the facilities needed to address this range of specific requirements – and this is where our role as built environment specialists comes in.

“Developing facilities that meet the needs of SEND pupils demands extensive consultation with teaching staff, parents, local authorities and, where possible, the pupils themselves. This informs the creation of bespoke layouts and specifications for materials and equipment appropriate to the needs of pupils, such as the need for the right balance of light and colours to impact the mood and concentration of pupils.”

For Lexden Springs School, a state-of-the-art, new build SEND school in Colchester, the headteacher and school staff were a vital part of the design process, ensuring the campus would meet the diverse range of needs, including hydrotherapy, hoisting facilities, swing therapy, dining and sensory areas.

We also pioneered a brand-new VR concept in SEND construction delivery for this project, installing 360-degree cameras across the site that fed into VR goggles, meaning that even those pupils who were physically unable to visit the site were able to watch their new classrooms taking shape in real-time.

We also worked with main contractor Morgan Sindall on an additional commitment to move all furniture and equipment retained from the previous school, located two miles away, into the new building during the summer holiday. This, combined with our ‘turnkey’ solution, allowed the school community to walk into a fully furnished building on day one – something that was essential to the smooth transition of pupils.

Andrew continued: “The ongoing process of engagement and consultation end-users is particularly important when working on SEND schools and facilities, making sure that we continually audit our designs to follow users’ journeys through a building and ensuring that all specific needs are met – whether this something as simple as low lighting in relaxation spaces, or more technical assistance equipment like hoisting facilities and hydro-therapy pools.

“We are very proud that our work for Lexden Springs School went on to win the education category of the East of England RICS Social Impact Awards in 2020, with the judges noting the collaboration between the school, local authority and wider delivery team being key in a smooth transition for pupils.”

Building new SEND schools is considered to be the long-term solution to guaranteeing the provision is in place but expanding existing special and mainstream schools in the near future is vitally important as well. With projects such as these, we must ensure that facilities are sufficient to meet a wide range of special needs, but also that a connectivity between the SEND and mainstream facilities is established.

For example, as part of a larger, £2m expansion of Feltham Hill Infant School in Hounslow we delivered a 16-place SEND unit, which needed to have cohesion with the rest of the school. By appointing specialist acousticians, we were able to address the critical issue of noise disruption from aircraft flying overhead, but designed an extension that allowed for a seamless transfer between the mainstream and SEND provisions through the use of open-plan classrooms that encourage collaboration between pupils.

Andrew concluded: “Our approach to delivering special education needs schools combines best practice guidance coupled with a bespoke approach based on meeting the specific needs of each school and its community. Our consultants are fully versed in the guidance outlined in the design guidance for SEND schools outlined in Building Bulletins 102 and 104, but as well as this expert knowledge, full and proper consultation is essential to achieving facilities which can deliver pupils the best possible education for their requirements.”

Contact Andrew Almond, partner and education lead on 0345 045 0050 or to discuss how we can help you with your education built environment needs.

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