Similarities and Differences – Project Comparison of Two Leading SEN Facilities

This webinar took place on 17 March 2021

Holding slide from Inclusive e Learning Environments Show

Vanguard and Cleeve Meadow are special education needs (SEN) schools designed by Pozzoni Architecture and built by Galliford Try. Pozzoni adopt three principles when designing SEN schools: reducing anxiety; responding to heightened senses; and providing a safe and functional learning environment. Although the schools shared similar briefs and specifications, the end products were both unique due to location, site specifics and school preferences.

This presentation demonstrated how Pozzoni and Galliford Try created inclusive learning environments empowering their users to flourish and excel in society, discussing key differences and similarities between the projects.

Project Differences

Vanguard is a 78 place school for pupils diagnosed with autism who often experience further difficulties, including OCD and ADHD. This school is in central London with key landmarks and tourist attractions nearby. However, the site area is only 4,000m2. It is designed like an ‘L’ which has created a focal point at the entrance and opens up to nearby playing fields. Not only was this the most efficient design choice, it was cost effective too. On the other hand, Cleeve Meadow is a 120 place school which also houses pupils with autism and additional needs such as social, emotional and mental health difficulties. To maximise inclusivity, the building has merged with the mainstream secondary school; this enhances SEN awareness for mainstream pupils and allows SEN pupils to acclimatise to busier environments. This site is 84,000m2 and is shaped like a square with a courtyard space in the centre. The courtyard offers a nurturing space which is visible and accessible from all over the school. Being a larger site, multiple access points are available for vehicles and pedestrians.

Project Similarities

Collaboration with the National Autism Society Academies Trust decided that both projects would be no more than two storeys high to sufficiently meet user needs, remain flexible and also secure. Further, the projects provide amenities which welcome local community use; pupils are also encouraged to integrate with the community through visiting nearby cultural facilities to enrich their education. However, Covid-19 has hindered access to these.

Understanding the end user and their needs is crucial. In this case, understanding that those on the autistic spectrum are hypersensitive to sounds, textures, taste, colours and smells directly influences design decisions, such as acoustics, air quality and lighting. Pastel tones and colours have been used while also incorporating soft furnishes and non-reflective surfaces. Loose furniture helps to maximise classroom flexibility, empowering young people to make choices tailored to their needs. For instance, easily movable furniture means that learners can dictate where they are comfortable, determine proxemics and lighting best suited for particular activities.

Positive feedback has been received from both schools: Cleeve Meadow have expressed that the learning environment has positively influenced their learners’ behaviours, while Vanguard indicated their attendance has increased from 20% to 90%. This highlights that regardless of site differences and preferences, it is possible to successfully create inclusive learning environments when the end users’ needs are taken into consideration throughout the whole design process.

Holly Passmore - Thought Leadership Consultant Step Connect2

Written by Holly Passmore, Thought Leadership Consultant, Step Connect2

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