New builds 'fall down' on SEN facilities

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Doors too narrow for wheelchairs and duff acoustics in classrooms for the deaf show that guidlines are being flouted

Many newly built schools are failing disabled pupils because regulations on classroom quality are not strict enough, campaigners have claimed.

Many of the buildings - often procured through Building Schools for the Future (BSF) - suffer from failed acoustics in classrooms designed for the deaf and doors that are not wide enough for wheelchair use, according to the Alliance for Inclusive Education (Allfie).

Guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families on catering for disabled children is detailed - but it is not statutory, and the charity warns that too many BSF contractors are able to ignore it.

The charity is calling on the DCSF to let independent disability experts review BSF policy, and for ministers to introduce new statutory duties to promote equality in new primary and secondaries.

Simone Aspis, Allfie campaigns and policy co-ordinator, said: "There needs to be a review of the whole process so that schools are accessible for everyone. We are all supposed to be working in the context of promoting equality, but this is not happening in practice with BSF."

Allfie wants there to be consultation with disabled children before building projects start - something which, the charity has found, has not happened at all in the UK.

"It is unlikely that a school's learning environment will be accessible if disabled people with access expertise are not involved at the design stage.

"This would include consideration being given to environmental barriers such as room layout, lighting and acoustics," Ms Aspis said.

"It is only when construction work on a new school is well under way that any shortcomings in accessibility for disabled pupils will become apparent.

"Too often, this is because disabled access auditors have not been involved in the planning stage."

Ms Aspis has written to Partnerships for Schools, which runs BSF, to ask if they have completed any research about what disabled children and their parents think about projects, but has so far not had a response.

Ty Goddard, chief executive of the British Council for School Environments, said he would support a review of BSF if it improved access for everybody.

"We know there seems to be issues around disabled children being able to fully access all areas of our schools," he said.

"This of course means it also affects non-disabled children and adults. We know that if you get access right for disabled people, you get it pretty much right for everybody."

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