Education – The Village School, LB Brent

The Village School is a replacement building for 235 pupils, aged 4–19 with Special Education Needs for the London Borough of Brent on the site of Grove Park & Hay Lane Schools, which previously occupied the site.

The proposals also included for an eight bedroom Short Break Centre for overnight and weekend respite. The School provision is for a wide spectrum of SEN pupils inclusive of Profound & Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The school development involved the teaching staff, therapists, pupils, parents, governors, user groups and the local community. Consultation has included discussion groups, assemblies, classroom activities, Governors meetings, focus groups, Design Quality Indicator sessions, Design Champion forums and meetings with planning and design professionals.

The project vision was to create a welcoming setting with three ‘villages’ for 4–7, 7–14 and 14–19 aged pupils with a mix of needs, within which specific classrooms would have particular SEN focuses. A village has its own teaching resources, specialist areas and dining. All classrooms have direct access to their own external space. There is a separate Sports Hall (from the main hall) and pool inclusive of Hydrotherapy. The focus is on vocational training for the older pupils, encouraging their move into the adult world and teaching ‘life skills’ and independence. The accommodation includes for a Life Skills flat, shop and community cafe partly staffed by pupils. The overall plan had to overcome the existing site slope and join up with the 6th form building to the top of the site.

The new Village School is to provide a commitment for an inclusive environment designed to meet the needs of all users to current legislation, and fulfilling the required duties under the Disability Discrimination Act. The intention is that the new School will be seen as a symbol for the London Borough of Brent’s investment in Special Educational Needs for the 21st century. First and foremost it is a welcoming comfortable place for the children where they can feel safe within an inclusive environment. A school which they can have a sense of pride in and a Short Break Centre that is fun to come to and a joy to use.

The school building is outward facing to the community, inviting and open to the local neighbourhood. Engagement with the local residents is central to the ethos of the school with a cafe, pool, sports hall, external hard court, drop-in therapy, exhibitions and special events. The schools desire is to develop as a meeting place and in turn help break down perceived barriers and gain greater acceptance and understanding of special needs within the area. The ‘Village’ is a place people want to come to learn, teach, share and socialize in. ‘Out of hours’ use is simple and straightforward. It’s the usual thing to do, not the one off occasion.

Vocational learning is at the core of the school curriculum preparing the children for the outside world and giving them independent skills, with a learning environment which has the needs of the individual pupil at its heart. The School will continue to watch over the pupils who are leaving. There is an emphasis on ‘Life Skills’ and vocational teaching preparing individuals for a future in the working world, but ensuring those close links with ex pupils remain beyond the age of 19 and into adulthood.

Ultimately, the intent is that the Village School is seen as a place people want to invest time and effort in, adopting it as part of the neighbourhood and taking pride in the symbolism the buildings represent as a celebration of the school, the centre and its pupils, cherished by the local community.