The new Abbey Court SEN School is a replacement building for the two existing Abbey Court Schools located on the Rainham and Strood sites amalgamating the Nursery and Primary provision with the Secondary and Post 16 provision onto the one site. The replacement building is to be located on the former Temple Secondary School site in Strood and is for 225 pupils, 3–19 age range.
The provision is for a wide spectrum of pupils inclusive of Profound & Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) accommodated in mixed need 8–9 pupil classrooms with up to four staff.
The school design has been developed in a tight time frame with less than six months to get from initial interview and introduction to a Planning Application. Nevertheless, it was still important to involve as many stakeholders as possible with the teaching staff, therapists, pupils, parents, governors, user groups and the local community. The project vision was to create a welcoming setting for the mix of SEN needs splitting the school requirements between Nursery, Reception, and through each Keystage up to Post 16.
The school is essentially split into two distinct wings. The Nursery through to Keystage 02 form the first half, and Keystage 03 through to Post 16 form the second half. Shared facilities are placed to the centre in each case. Sports Hall, Assembly Hall and Hydrotherapy Pool provision are located as a shared spine between the two areas to be used by all of the school. All General Teaching classrooms through to Keystage 04 will have direct access out to the external play spaces. In the case of the Post 16 classes located to the first floor, these will have access direct to external terraces with corridor access onto a play deck area.
The school will be built in two phases, the first phase to the South side accounting for the Nursery and Primary provision to the site including the main entrance and staff/administrative areas. The second phase will consist of the Secondary and Post 16 provision to the North side of the site. Frankham was able to demonstrate their nationally recognized specialist expertise and experience in Special Education Needs design adding to the work already established on two previous SEN schools.
With Abbey Court, the most important ingredient from the pupils’ and teachers’ view point is that the resultant building is practical and functional. It is critical to create a school which is flexible and able to respond to future demands. The balance of pupils being admitted to the School, evolving teaching methods and staff expertise will all evoke change. The designs will be generous enough to accommodate evolution and be able to incorporate a wide variety of activities to ensure its long life.
The school areas are split into a variety of sizes which are adaptable to alternate uses. Classrooms are large at 65m² for 8–9 pupils and their staff. Subject, resources, softplay and sensory rooms are close at hand and easy to access from classrooms. Routes to the nearby pool, sports hall and assembly hall are short and easy to navigate, and the halls can perform any number of larger activities including dining, drama or sport specific to that Keystage. Separation of the main hall and Sports Hall was important to the schools functionality to allow for as many functions to happen at once and a division net allows for further subdivision of the Sports Hall. The Music and Drama classroom can be opened up to become part of and an extension to the main hall when required.
The large classrooms are capable of being adapted for any pupil community dependent on the particular changing needs over time. All classrooms have hygiene areas and WCs close at hand and significant amounts of storage for resources and mobility equipment. It was imperative that all classrooms had direct access to the outside external play with their own canopied areas.
The buildings identity, context and setting in the community are of significant importance. The intent is that the new school design should strengthen the image of education in the neighbourhood. Key components of the school could be open for community or ‘Out of Hours’ use. The pool, sports hall and main hall can be open for neighbouring groups to use. The community use of central spaces could extend to a church group for instance and local social activities or events.
Areas are zoned in terms of services to allow running of specific parts of the building of an evening, weekend or vacation. A clear security and Fire Evacuation regime will be adhered to in order to allow areas to be easily divided off. The separate entrance into the hydrotherapy pool and close access to the Sports Hall facilities allows for ‘out of hours’ use without opening up the remainder of the school. After school clubs can easily gain access.