SEN: Acoustics gaffe at hi-tech deaf facility

9th October 2009 at 01:00
BSF school's unit for pupils with hearing impairment is built without soundproofing

Original paper headline: Acoustics gaffe at hi-tech deaf facility

A new pound;39 million school in south London boasting a state-of-the-art "soundproof" room in which to teach its deaf pupils has opened its doors. But it appears a vital piece of kit is missing - it has no soundproofing.

Sedgehill Secondary in Lewisham was built under the Government's pound;55 billion Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, but despite the millions spent on it the building does not cater fully for the needs of its 15 deaf pupils.

The school has an impressive track record of providing for deaf children, and developed a hearing impaired unit (HIU) to help teach deaf pupils as far back as 1957.

But despite being promised state-of-the-art facilities, including a soundproof audiology room and an HIU with high-level acoustics, only the school's most basic requirements have been met.

A 76-page acoustics report was produced on tests carried out on the school to check whether it conformed to the required building regulations, but there is not a single mention of an HIU in the entire document.

It is understood the decision not to provide the school with the highest acoustic specifications was taken jointly by Lewisham Council and contractor Costain.

The school's head, Karen Bastick-Styles, is privately said to be "very unhappy" with the situation, but in a statement she said the difficulties were due to "teething problems".

Ms Bastick-Styles said: "Acoustic issues with the HIU are one of a number of teething problems currently being addressed jointly by Costain, the local authority and the school. We are all committed to ensuring all our students get the first-class provision they deserve."

The National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has campaigned for improved acoustics in schools for some time and says BSF should provide deaf children with a perfect opportunity to be taught in mainstream education.

Jo Campion, head of campaigns at NDCS, said: "It's quite simple: if children can't hear their teacher in a noisy classroom, they won't be able to learn. Sadly, the NDCS keeps coming across brand-new schools with poor listening environments.

"The Government will continue to waste billions of pounds on these new schools unless they take action. There is an urgent need for compulsory acoustic testing of new schools before they open so examples like this stop happening."

According to Partnership for Schools (PfS), the agency overseeing the delivery of BSF, there are "clear guidelines" on providing the correct facilities for new schools.

A PfS spokesperson said: "BSF is about providing 21st-century learning environments for every young person, no matter what their background or abilities.

"This is why there are clear guidelines on what constitutes appropriate facilities, including for those with special needs.

"In this particular instance, the local authority and the private sector partner are working closely with the school to ensure that the new learning environment meets the needs of every pupil."

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