SEND White Paper: Creating Inspiring Learning Spaces for Student Success

08-03-2024

Future-proofing FF&E Provision: Navigating the Evolving Landscape of SEND Education and Strategies for Success
The Department for Education (DfE) has been placing a growing emphasis on funding and support for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), which has sparked a significant rise in the demand nationwide for SEND facilities to cater for 1.5 million students in England, along with the requirement to furnish these buildings.

Pinnacle has produced this document to share key insights and highlights from its extensive experience in developing SEND-specific solutions working with professionals involved in the education industry. Through collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and expertise, it aims to provide valuable data to support the development of effective strategies for meeting the needs of SEND spaces. Consequently, Pinnacle’s FF&E consultants are collaborating closely with contractors, school staff, local councils, and other stakeholders to develop inclusive environments to fulfil the specific needs of students presenting complex learning and physical challenges.

Creating an inclusive environment for individuals with SEND is essential for promoting conducive teaching and learning conditions for all children; as well as for preparing them to thrive in modern society – many with disabilities that are not immediately apparent. Pinnacle’s approach therefore involves creating a holistic FF&E plan, which is tailored and implemented for both current and future requirements to ensure the school, or other settings, can quickly and easily adapt to the changing needs of its students.

How the Department for Education’s (DfE) criteria impact FF&E
The DfE’s guidance very much influences how FF&E is tailored to each project, taking into account legal requirements and specifications that must be adhered to. The fine balance is to meet both clients’ requirements as well as the specifications outlined in the brief.

By following these guidelines, Pinnacle ensures that its FF&E provision aligns with the DfE’s standards, resulting in a learning environment that promotes inclusivity and support for all students. This approach also enables the company to collaborate effectively with other professionals who work with children; including teachers, therapists, and other specialists.

The DfE utilises a standardised document to set a basepoint and the amount of FF&E allocated for each specific area or space. This allocation follows a similar pattern for most SEND cohorts, ensuring a fair and consistent approach when constructing and fitting out new facilities.

The performance and layout guidance for FF&E is found in the Generic Design Brief and Technical Annexes. The Generic Design Brief, as a comprehensive design document, serves as the foundation for the FF&E procurement process, establishing a clear framework for the designers, architects, and educators involved. It outlines the project’s scope, objectives, and desired aesthetic vision, enabling a shared understanding among all parties involved.

The Technical Annexes, in turn, outline further technical specifications and instructions to guide manufacturers, suppliers, and contractors involved in the procurement, installation, and maintenance of FF&E.

This is supplemented by a project specific Schedule of Accommodation and Area Data Sheet workbook tool (SOA/ADS) which lists the allocation per room. The feasibility study and the school specific brief are also documents that can provide details about specific requirements that may differ from the baseline specification.

The Pinnacle approach to tailoring FF&E for SEND environments
FF&E in a school can significantly influence students’ academic performance and overall satisfaction within a space, impacting teaching, therapy, and support provided. Designing a specialist school or other areas with diverse needs requires both effective flexibility and functionality.

Pinnacle begins the design process by referring to the set of standard documents provided by the client, such as the DfE’s guidelines. At this stage, it is critical to understand the fundamental building requirements set forth by the DfE to ensure they meet the necessary standards and are future-proofed concerning foreseeable changes.

  • Bridging the gap between DfE requirements and the client brief
    Using the ADS/SOA template is a starting point for Pinnacle’s work, particularly when specifying FF&E requirements for school projects. In this document, it is essential to specify both the type and quantity of products required, as there might be inconsistencies between the ADS/SOA template and the school’s brief, leading to the need for a dialogue in order to fully comprehend the requirements. Since the FF&E budget is routinely based on this information, it is imperative to adjust and allocate funds to align with the school’s needs while fully comprehending the data’s source in order to deliver a positive outcome.
  • Guidance and recommendations when choosing furniture or equipment for SEND
    When designing FF&E for SEND settings, Pinnacle evaluates whether the FF&E functionality matches the requirements targeted for the students, which involves assessing the activities and use of the FF&E while ensuring it is relevant and safe to use by students with medical conditions or physical disabilities. Selecting the correct methodology around locking storage, access to water, handle types and product specification is vital to ensure a solution that is fit for purpose and robust, but also sustainably sourced and easy to maintain.
  • Handle types
    Standard Bow or D handles that protrude from the surface of a door can be problematic in some SEND environments, representing a potential point of misuse from highly active pupils, or simply an obstacle that can be damaged by a wheelchair. The alternative use of flush handles, finger pull, or push latches are a practical and safe solution to avoid these issues.
  • Locking and access strategy
    In areas with highly active pupils, the school may require lockable storage cupboards to limit unauthorised access. Consideration also needs to be given to key suiting and the ability for a simple override capability. Sinks can also be located in full-height cupboards to enable staff to close off the potentially hazardous unit when not in use.
  • Robust fitted furniture
    To ensure the longevity of furniture within a demanding environment, Pinnacle specifies products that have been tested and certified by the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) or equivalent, often including features such as hinge security plates that are easily replaceable.
  • Height adjustable or fixed lower height worktops
    It is often necessary to tailor rooms to a student’s capabilities to enable access to work zones or items of equipment from a wheelchair; for example by considering comfort and reach using height adjustable mechanisms. However, adjustable worktops may cause a distraction for other students, so can be avoided with a fixed height worktop with knee space at the correct height.

Future-proofing the provision of SEND spaces
To maintain the relevance and adaptability of SEND spaces to evolving requirements, Pinnacle undertakes careful planning and consideration of each space during the FF&E phase. Prior to designing or refurbishing any SEND spaces, its FF&E consultants conduct a comprehensive assessment, where crucial insights into the functionality and design of the spaces are gathered and analysed through client engagement.

Furthermore, sustainability, flexibility, accessibility, and the integration of assisted technology are all critical factors that must be addressed. These measures ensure that SEND spaces are future-proof and capable of meeting the changing needs of children and young people with disabilities.

Conclusion
Pinnacle establishes environments that are safe, accessible and inclusive, resulting in favourable outcomes for the building’s occupants, through:

  • FF&E consultants offering recommendations for furniture, fixtures, and equipment that fully suit SEND schools. For instance, by utilising furniture that is adjustable or can be easily reconfigured to meet the needs of students with mobility impairments.
  • FF&E collaboration with clients, architects, and designers to ensure that SEND environments are configured to be inclusive and accessible.
  • FF&E SEND specialists recommending products that meet the specific needs of SEND students. For example, furniture that is ergonomically designed or selecting sensory equipment that can be used to calm students with sensory processing disorders.
  • Ensuring that all products and equipment meet current safety standards and are suitable for use in SEND environments.
  • Providing the expertise to assist in bridging the gap between the end-users (the school and its students) and what the DfE has specified at the early stages of the project.

Take a look at our:

  • SEND brochure, which showcases our SEND case studies
  • SEND presentation, where our Project Director and SEN/ASN Specialist, Andrew Ball, discusses the key role of FF&E in managing SEND in mainstream schools at the Education Estates SEND Conference.

Download the White Paper