East London Independent School is extending its site in Stratford Marsh, London, by redeveloping what was once an old church. The school is operated by TCES Group. Here, CEO Thomas Keaney shares with Education For Everybody how it was designed with autism in mind…
Why did TCES Group decide to convert an old church into a school building?
As a social enterprise we reinvest surpluses to continually improve our schools and services. Our vision is to educate young people locally rather than see them sent far away from home. Uniquely, we integrate pupils with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, and we want to increase our provision. East London Independent School currently has 38 pupils aged seven to 19 (and a substantial number of referrals) and through this expansion we will be able to increase that to 70.
How many classrooms will there be?
In the redeveloped church part of the school there will be six classrooms, as well as a double art room and state-of-the-art classrooms for science, ICT and food technology. There will also be a new school hall, two sensory rooms, and an excellent outside space.
What is the “ideal” learning environment for youngsters with autism? What are the must-haves in a school?
TCES Group has been supporting young people with SEMH and ASC for almost 20 years and are experts when it comes to designing schools to meet their needs. We have worked with award-winning firm GA Architects to deliver state-of-the-art premises.
Buildings should be calming. Excellent acoustics combined with noise attenuation between classrooms ensure pupils can hear what is being said in class.
To help create a low-arousal environment, it is important to pay special attention to lighting. We have carefully included indirect light sources and avoided using fluorescent bulbs. We have used blinds to minimise direct sunlight and have also painted the walls with non-stimulating colours.
Schools should think carefully about the size of classrooms to ensure they are of adequate size for the number of pupils. We have designed our classrooms on the basis of five square metres per pupil.
Are there any building features which should be avoided completely when it comes to designing schools?
Avoid using fragile materials that can be broken or tampered with, for example light fittings, switches and thermostats. Avoid using handrails and ledges, or anything that can be climbed on. Shiny and reflective surfaces should also be avoided as well as the colours red and orange.
How does the ideal teaching and learning environment impact on pupils’ wellbeing and on their attainment? How does it affect staff?
It is possible to reduce pupils’ anxiety and frustration through good design. A low-arousal environment helps to reduce challenging behaviour and increase concentration in the classroom. This makes pupils easier to manage and teach, which is a benefit to staff.