Inclusive Design

This webinar took place on Thursday 15 March, 11:00 – 12:00

Special Education Needs (SEN)

In 2020, 15.4% of schools in England had pupils with special education needs (SEN). This is a form of learning difficulty or disability where additional support is beneficial. The most common types of SEN are autism; speech, language and communication; and social, emotional and mental health. Recognising that one size does not fit all is essential for developing and delivering effective support strategies and appropriate learning environments. Research has suggested classroom design can improve attainment by as much as 16%.

This webinar provided insight as to how environments can reduce stress in SEN schools, the significance of our senses and how they impact well-being and learning.

Special educational needs. 15.5% of all pupils in school in England have special needs. Most SEN pupils struggle with sensory experience and struggle to process information and senses. The design of a classroom can improve a pupils learning by 16%. Stress and anxiety is strongly correlated with behaviour and learning disabilities.

Special educational needs in England


A Day in the Life

Individuals with SEN can be susceptible to experiencing stress and anxiety, which can influence emotional, social and cognitive function. A school’s external environment is the first place pupils congregate. Having accessible, defined and secure zones is fundamental for creating a safe haven. Connecting with or using nature as a reference point may help to reduce anxiety. Nature has been shown to lower physiological effects associated with stress. Wide corridors with clear signage assists with orientation and managing flow; something of particular importance during Covid-19. A predictable classroom layout supports individuals with autism; they appreciate routine and certainty. Support spaces where pupils can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed are also valuable, where individuals can reset and process emotions. Earthy, pastel colours are useful here; harsh colours have been shown to invoke a negative emotional response in some SEN pupils. Ultimately, learning and sensory environments should be seen as a whole and not mutually exclusive. Together, they can create environments which offer opportunities to flourish academically and socially.

SENsitive Design

IBI THiNK is IBI Group’s research team: an organisation whose mission is to ‘define the cities of tomorrow’. This presentation discussed their ‘SENse Sensitive Design’ toolkit which has been applied in diverse settings.

IBI THiNK recognise the significance of our senses and recently explored the effects of Covid-19 in children. Although children are less vulnerable to the illness, they are more likely to experience long-Covid which may significantly impact their senses, such as smell. When a sense is hampered, other senses are heightened which can be disruptive and uncomfortable. In recent years, the five traditional senses have expanded, acknowledging sense of balance, time and space. A sensory philosophy IBI follow is ‘Snoozelen’; a Dutch multi-sensory environment which offers respite. These spaces are soothing and produce benefits including focus, confidence and social interaction. Proxemics are an important facet, particularly for those with SEN. Settings which accommodate a variety of learning difficulties and needs, through agile and adaptable spaces, generate a sense of belonging and choice. In the context of Covid-19, mats or rugs could be incorporated; this empowers young people to choose and apply their own self-distancing measures. Temperature can additionally cause discomfort and can be addressed through natural ventilation. Similarly, things like pollen, CO2 and smell can additionally impact learning and well-being. IBI recognise the importance of making the invisible visible.


Holly Passmore - Thought Leadership Consultant Step Connect2

Written by Holly Passmore, Thought Leadership Consultant, Step Connect2

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