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Schools should be inclusive spaces

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[#GREATSCHOOLS] More accessible school buildings are easier to manage, run and timetable, says architect and access consultant Jane Simpson

Due to medical advances, more children are surviving childbirth and the numbers of profoundly disabled children have increased and are enjoying longer lives. The numbers of those within the autistic spectrum are increasing at a higher rate and often children will have, not just one but multiple disabilities.

The legislation emanating from the EU and within the UK is one of equality; the legislation in relation to children with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN) has changed over recent years and will continue to do so. There is an expectation that new buildings will provide accessibility levels consummate with anticipated users. These users include not only pupils but staff, visitors’ and third party users. Whilst it is vital to ensure access to education, schools also have Public Sector duties which require consideration of all school users in whatever capacity.

The legislation is civil and there are no technical standards that can ensure compliance. The more accessible the buildings and grounds the easier it is to manage, run and timetable. If you have existing building stock and are planning amendments or new construction work to your school, what is the process to achieve the best within the limits of site conditions and the budget?

Initially, you should risk assess against your known demographics, what do you do, who for, where and when? Review your liability in terms of service provision, employer duties, as well as, access to the curriculum and social activities.

Once this has been completed define the design criteria, taking into account Building Regulations and best practice guidance. Building Regulations Part M (ADM) clearly states that meeting ADM does not necessarily constitute meeting the requirements of the Equality Act. These documents should be used to define the audit/design model against which the design and any management solutions should be judged. Once these have been agreed, the process should be considered so that inclusion is at every stage, from brief to handover.

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