All newly built Victorian government schools will now have to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities and special needs as part of the Government’s latest initiative undertaken as part of the Special Needs Plan.

It will also apply to all schools undertaking significant building projects including the 15 schools in the New Schools Public Private Partnership Project (NSPPP) being designed by architecture firm Clarke Hopkins Clarke.

Wayne Stephens, of Clarke Hopkins Clarke came out in support of the NSPPP, explaining that the project’s success has led to improvements in how schools will be planned, built and modernised in the future.

As part of the NSPPP new guidelines for planning inclusive schools will be detailed in a significantly improved handbook setting out how schools are built, and will include new tools and resources to aid the delivery inclusive new schools for regions, school communities, planners, architects and builders.

Wayne Stephens on inclusive design in the New Schools Public Private Partnership (transcript below)

I’m Wayne Stephens. I’m a partner of ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects and I specialise in designing educational facilities. ClarkeHopkinsClarke works with a lot of special schools. We believe that there was a real opportunity for the mainstream schools to do a lot more, to start to integrate a lot of those needs within those mainstream schools.

These designs work with the Universal Design Principles really so they become a facility where all kids of all age and abilities can actually use these facilities. Some of the key factors of the Universal Design Principles are actually having easy access for different facilities and making it so that we’ve minimised the distances between the Learning Communities and the specialist spaces so they’ve got easy access to those places.

If we take a typical learning community, for example, there’s a lot of differentiated learning that caters for a lot of kids with different needs. There are larger collaborative spaces where it’s appropriate for children to have a wellbeing setting in that larger social sense, but also right down to those small, intimate spaces for quiet reflection, to have those spaces as well. For example, in our Learning Communities we have a learning pod that’s not only used to differentiate the different learning settings that are within the Learning Community, but also can provide a bit of a safe haven for kids with special needs, that they’ve got somewhere to retreat to that can have that sense of nurturing and a sense of ownership of a space as well.

I think by experiencing the spaces you really need to validate the different learning settings within the space, and everything needs to be fully integrated so it has the ability for children with special needs to be able to feel at home in that space. But it really shouldn’t be obvious as well; it just needs to be there but in the background without making it look evident that it is catering for kids with special needs.

We talk about the learning spaces having a lot of flexibility, but it’s really important that they are also adaptable so they can change over time. Even the external walls, we use those. By activating those walls with little niches and recesses and spaces to sit and reflect and that sort of thing, creates another learning setting again that they can use.

Also, it’s really important that the furniture selection that we have in those Learning Communities can suit the variety of different needs of all the children as well. We’ve got a lot of adjustable height tables and chairs that can cater for children with greater needs.

Image: Wayne Stephens speaks about inclusive schools