The best educational buildings for students with SEND are ones that are designed from the ground up for that purpose, writes Mark Brown.

■ Modular timber frame building for SEND by TG Escapes at Chichester College set in sensory garden.

A new SEND building must be designed to take into account access and moving between individual rooms, and it should provide the ability to tailor spaces over time to meet the continually changing needs of pupils. It must consider the full spectrum of SEND, including communication and interaction, cognition and learning, social, emotional and mental health difficulties (SEMH), and sensory and physical needs.

As with all school buildings, there are strict rules governing the size and layout of SEND classrooms. There are clear guidelines around classrooms, dining areas, art rooms, science studios and more that must be adhered to when planning a new space. For a therapy space, for instance, a room size of 12m2 is needed for ambulant pupils, or 152 for non-ambulant pupils.

■ Modular timber frame work skills and enterprise centre for St Josephs Specialist Trust designed by TG Escapes.

Additional rooms may be needed for certain pupils, so schools catering to those with autism may need dedicated quiet or sensory rooms, with a separate space for those too uncomfortable to eat lunch in a main dining room. When considering layout it’s also crucial to design around safe circulation through a building and to consider adjacent spaces like controlled breakout rooms to help ensure staff and pupil safety. In classrooms, clear sightlines should also be prioritised for teachers. Applying this guidance can help create effective, suitable environments for learning and support in SEND settings.

■ Equipment storage in Sir Charles Parsons post 16 provision designed by TG Escapes Modular Eco Buildings.

To ensure equal and easy access, single-storey buildings should be used wherever possible. In a second storey is needed, stairwells must be wide enough for staff to assist pupils from both sides, with a lift that is large enough to accommodate a child with mobility equipment and accompanying staff. Corridors must be at least 2.2m wide, as this is the amount of space needed for a member of staff to turn a wheelchair around. It’s important to have easy access to the outdoors, in terms of mood, stress levels, and academic performance. This may be for physical education or for access to informal and social areas, such as sensory gardens. Noisier outdoor spaces should be separated from quieter ones, and outdoor science areas can also be used to support pupils, alongside garden and vegetable plating areas, with raised planters needed for pupils with mobility difficulties. Biophilic design works to bridge the gap between interior and exterior spaces. Classrooms can be made biophilic by prioritising high levels of natural light and fresh air, through the use of natural materials such as timber, and by incorporating easy access to the outdoors. This could mean incorporating a wooden deck around the building, or connecting it to a sensory garden.

Mark Brown
Author: Mark Brown

Mark Brown
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Mark Brown is a Consultant at TG Escapes Modular Eco-Buildings who provide timber frame off site building solutions to the education sector.



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