We're designing for children yet to be born - and who knows what ideas a future government will have about special education?

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
We've spent years moaning about our school building. They didn't make these corridors wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass; there's no storage for the standing frames; we have nowhere for the teacher of the hearing impaired to carry out assessments; no one ever thought of giving us a room for parents to meet in; we need a medical suite; we need a soft play room.

And another thing... why should we bundle our children on to buses and take them across the city to use a hydrotherapy pool? We're a special school, we should have one here. You'd have thought a special school would have electric doors; these toilets are not big enough to hoist a pupil out of their wheelchair and on to the loo; who thought it was a good idea to have stairs up to the hall? It's obvious we need more parking and turning space for all the buses that bring the children in the morning; shouldn't we have running water in every room, efficient heating, air conditioning and please, more female staff toilets!

You would think we were all design experts, and we were beginning to think we really did know best when we found we had the opportunity to be involved in designing a new school. A new special school. This is so exciting because, as is the case with many special schools, we're not in purpose-built accommodation and have always "added to, made do and knocked through" to try to improve the facilities.

But now we have the chance to influence the design of a school, and the thought that teachers in years to come will be saying "surely someone in the noughties would have had the foresight to provide virtual reality independence training suites", or whatever the required facilities in 10 years' time will be, really sharpens the mind. There's nothing like sharing the responsibility to stop the moaning, and this has made us think about the future of our school and its uses; after all, we're designing for a cohort of children yet to be born, staff yet to be appointed and a government yet to be elected - and who knows what ideas a future government will have about special education?

We can only consider the needs of our pupils now and the direction in which we are going. This would indicate that we need a building that is much more open to the community, parents, other schools and other agencies. We know we'd like a pool, a sports hall and well-designed toilets and storage, but really, designers - it's up to you. After all, in 10 or 20 years, we won't really mind and if the needs of the school have changed that much, well they can always add to, make do and knock through. We did it for years without complaint.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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