Special Needs: Are new school designs legal?


According to the Alliance for Education the Department for Education’s Priority Schools Building programme is likely to breach statutory access requirements and equality duties.

Sharon Hodgson, shadow minister for children and families has submitted written parliamentary questions to Education Secretary Michael Gove on the issue, as well as the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba), which contacted Ms Hodgson after the government published its new construction plans which include narrow corridors and the like to save money on schools.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns co-ordinator at the Alliance said the group has asked Gove to check whether the DfE’s so-called “baseline design specification” for schools is in fact valid, and fit for purpose.

“If a school is smaller, we are concerned that it may not be wheelchair-accessible and there may not be enough room for children to move around safely if they have a physical impairment,” she said.

“Riba has suggested to us that the building designs may not comply with statutory guidance, even though ideally we would recommend schools be built to an even higher standard than what is currently statutory guidance.”

Hodgson has meanwhile asked Gove for evidence that the DfE conducted an equality impact assessment or similar investigations relating to access for people with disabilities, when writing the “baseline design specification” for the Priority School Building programme.

She also asked Gove whether he would revise the plans, given Riba’s concerns about “reducing the baseline for school size specifications in light of disabled students and staff and in general to meet statutory access requirements”.

In a statement, the institute said: “Riba has serious reservations about the ability of the baseline designs to accommodate students and staff with disabilities and in general to meet statutory access requirements.”

The DfE spokesperson said, “Our new baseline designs were drawn up jointly with architectural, environmental and teaching experts,” a DfE spokeswoman said.

“They enable every new school to be built more efficiently and will improve quality, reduce costs and limit the opportunity for error. We worked with accessibility experts to ensure these new designs meet the needs of all disabled staff and children.”

In May, Gove announced that 261 schools would be rebuilt using around £5.5bn of capital funding.

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