Supporting a physical curriculum


James Rhodes looks at how schools’ manual handling systems can be used to promote learning and social skills

Many children with disabilities and SEN can benefit from a broad-ranging physical curriculum which covers every aspect of their development. Catering for a group of children with a complex and diverse range of physical, sensory, learning and medical needs takes careful and strategic planning.

With each unique child comes a varied learner profile incorporating strengths, needs, short- and long-term goals and outcomes, together with wider aspirations. Yet meaningful functionality lies at the heart of this physical strand of their curriculum. These practical solutions could include using a walking frame or trike to travel to a sensory department in another building or joining other able-bodied children in an assembly hall. Freeing physically disabled children from clunky inhibitive equipment allows for increased communication and a natural interaction with their peers. This could be as simple as the ability to touch each other, or something more involved such as participation and contact in a variety of verbal and physical games.

Designing accessible areas for children with disabilities requires careful consideration and should be undertaken in conjunction with an occupational therapist and other healthcare professionals. Within this, the design and installation of systems to support hoists also requires considerable thought. If successful, such a system will enable children with a range of complex needs to move freely around a room or hall with ease. This facilitates independence, which can be liberating for both children and young adults.

Whether you are looking for adaptations to existing buildings or new installations, there are a number of factors that should be considered when designing accessible areas within a special or mainstream school or care setting.

Choosing the right hoists

A wide variety of hoisting systems is available and the most effective approach for each setting will depend on the physical environment and the precise functions that need to be carried out. The following are some of the most common generic types.

Free-standing gantry hoist systems
These can be easily carried and transferred from room to room via a fixed track. A free-standing system has no structural requirements on the ceiling or walls. They blend in discretely and are easy to remove when the lifting system is no longer needed.

In situ ceiling hoist track
Ceiling hoists and associated tracking are designed for use in multi-purpose environments, from halls to swimming pools or sensory therapy areas. They offer increased flexibility, reduced lifting and patient transfer and increased safety for clients and professionals alike.

This type of system can run through doorways into bedrooms, shower and swimming pool areas. The design and installation includes a number of different doorway solutions depending on the height and door header. These can be installed flush against a concrete ceiling, against wood joists, or using pendants in a concrete ceiling.

Room to room systems
These can be used through multi-purpose environments by connecting one system to another. This can enable a transfer from bedroom to bathroom or bathroom to living room, where no additional transfer is required.

Key design points

The design of a hoisting system should take account of a number of important considerations. There needs to be enough space for staff, adults and non-ambulant children to move around and all fixtures and fittings need to be robust and at an appropriate height.

Support systems should be age-appropriate for the children and young people being cared for and privacy should be a key design focus. For example, there should be sufficient screening in changing and shower areas, as well as in toilet cubicles.

Psychologists have long agreed on the impact of colour on mood and its influence on behaviour. Careful thought should be given to the impact of the colour scheme. Light-reflecting colours can be great for achieving a sense of space. Yellow can help to encourage a positive ambiance and green is often used to create a calming environment.

Planning and installation

Today, the process of designing and laying out a hoisting system can often be supported by using computer technology to create detailed plans and test ideas. Software packages can design and decorate both the interior and outdoor plans for a setting, with everything being rendered in three dimensions. This makes it easy to visualise how the system will work, what it will look like and any potential problems or issues that may need addressing.

When it comes to the installation of overhead lifting equipment, there are so many different solutions available on the market that virtually all conceivable options can be put into practice. The most common installation is an attachment directly to the ceiling, but many other systems are available.

Maintaining equipment

It is important to ensure lifting equipment is properly maintained. To avoid the possible transmission of infectious diseases, equipment should be cleaned regularly; the setting’s cleaning and disinfection policies should also provide a lead on this.

In terms of servicing and ongoing maintenance, many contractors offer ongoing service contracts or the ability to train in-house maintenance personnel, which can often be speedier and more efficient.  As with other equipment, it’s always important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, as detailed in their product manuals, to maintain the warranty and expected life-time guarantee.

Training and assessments

The introduction of a safe patient-handling policy, together with compulsory manual handling training, is essential for all staff involved in moving and lifting patients. Unfortunately, healthcare consistently ranks amongst the highest-risk occupations for disabling or debilitating back injuries – primarily from manually lifting patients. Poor moving and handling practice can lead to back pain, musculoskeletal disorders and even accidents for those doing the lifting. In some cases, staff may even find themselves unable to work. Of course, poor practice can also result in discomfort and a lack of dignity for the person being moved.

Manual handling assessments are also a vital element in ensuring procedures are carried out in a safe, legal and acceptable manner. Regular assessments should be untaken and logged for each hoisting and lifting scenario, whether this is in a living, teaching, therapeutic or recreational area.

Marrying manual handling and an SEN curriculum

Chailey Heritage Foundation provides education and care for children and young people with complex neuro-disabilities. Most of their young people have cerebral palsy, with associated complex health needs, and many have visual impairment and dual sensory impairments. All the young people are wheelchair users.

The charity uses a mobility and track system with more than 170 overhead hoists across the site. This includes the School, bungalows, the pool and horse riding facilities, the Life Skills Centre and the Hub.

The School has developed its own curriculum, based on individual learner’s needs. Physical development is one of the key areas of the curriculum so using the mobility, track and hoisting system to create possibilities for learning is vital; children and young people are able to explore their environment and are more engaged, responsive and independent. Children are encouraged to take part in physical activities to improve their ability to sit, encourage postural and head control, improve limb control and dexterity, and improve coordination and spatial awareness. A series of hoists within classrooms also encourages and promotes socialisation for children.

“It’s easy to forget the importance of physical contact as part of a child’s natural interaction with another child”, says Helen Springall, SEN teacher at the School. “Free from cumbersome equipment, mobilised children with severe physical disabilities are able to build closer relationships and interact in a way that was previously denied to them. This mobilisation gives them a freedom and independence to select the games and activities they want to take part in – and pushes boundaries not just in their physical development but opens their minds to new opportunities and aspirations.”

About the author

James Rhodes is Marketing Manager for Liko (part of the Hill-Rom Group), Early Mobilisation and Falls Prevention.


Images courtesy of Chailey Heritage Foundation:


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