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Building SEND Schools

Here, John Shannon, Divisional Director at Seddon, discusses the company’s experiences of building two SEND schools at the heart of their local communities, and what they mean to pupils and staff alike.


According to analysis from the National Education Union (NEU), there are now more than 390,000 pupils and students with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), an increase of 10% on 2019 and 62% on 2015. The NEU estimates that there is a £2.1bn shortfall in funding for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), creating a system that cannot cope with the increased number of pupils with EHCPs.

As a result, greater numbers of young people with complex needs are being educated in inappropriate settings, without the facilities and support needed to provide them with a proper education.

In the worst cases, pupils receive no educational provision at all, with the latest data revealing that 1260 pupils of compulsory school age are in this position (NEU data).
The statistics tell a difficult story, yet despite the financial and practical burdens they face, our teachers continue to give their all when it comes to educating young people with SEND.

It is up to the Government and local authorities to address the budgetary shortfalls to provide all pupils with the very best learning environments that facilitate exceptional care and development.

Over the years, Seddon has completed several new-build SEND schools for its local authority customers, to help improve facilities and provide space to accommodate more pupils.

Specialist education from the ground up

Under Cumbria County Council’s Local Offer, all schools in the region make SEND arrangements, though the county is only home to a small number of specialist schools that meet the needs of children with severe, profound and multiple disabilities.

Following a competitive tender process through the North West Construction Hub framework, Seddon successfully won the contract to deliver a new £8.6m SEND school in Ulverston for Cumbria County Council, to replace an existing facility that was no longer fit-for-purpose.

Located on council-owned land that was once home to the old Ulverston High School Sixth Form Centre, which stood derelict for years, is Sandside Lodge, a state-of-the-art, 80-place specialist school – the fifth in the region.

Seddon held weekly meetings with Headteacher, Donna Stretton, and her team to design and build the school from the ground up with pupils’ needs in mind. Working closely together, they redesigned aspects of the scheme to create a modern, fit-for-purpose school, while achieving more than £1m in savings.

Sandside is well-equipped with an experience room, hydrotherapy swimming pool, physiotherapy room and rebound trampoline therapy, alongside modern teaching spaces with the
latest technology.

Once enabling and demolition works were completed, the site team laid tarmac in preparation for the steel frame to be fitted, offering an innovative solution to health and safety, and maintaining site cleanliness for the duration of the contract. Main construction began in May 2018, ready for the school to open to new pupils and staff in September 2019.

A flagship part of the scheme included the installation of a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool, which is extensively used in SEND education to aid pupils in their development. Hydrotherapy helps children maintain joint and muscle movement and is especially important for young people who are confined to a wheelchair and might not be able to access a public pool.

Seddon employed subcontractor, Innova Care Concepts, to design and install the bespoke stainless steel hydrotherapy pool, equipped with hoist systems, air jets, colour-changing LED lights and an internal perimeter railing to enable physiotherapy exercises.

A dedicated library and specialist science facilities were also constructed to aid creative learning, along with the school’s first kitchen, offering pupils and staff
their own meals on site – a vital consideration for students who have complex dietary requirements.

Donna Stretton, Headteacher at Sandside Lodge, commented: “The space in the new school will enable us to change completely the way we teach our students, especially in terms of the space we are afforded. We will be able to break off into small groups, have a music room and help our students with physical disabilities to go swimming.”

Community engagement is a core part of any build; regular newsletters were issued by Seddon to keep residents updated, and drop-in days were arranged so the community could see progress in real-time. The team also provided added value by laying a temporary car park for neighbouring Ulverston High School, minimising disruption to staff.

Pupils were invited to the sod-cutting ceremony and visited the site during the summer holidays. The whole school also voted on a colour choice for the external cladding to keep the students engaged and develop familiarity as changes in environment can be really challenging.

Regular progress photos were shared with the headteacher who produced a ‘progression board’ to build excitement among the children in anticipation of their new school being ready.

Sandside Lodge opened in September 2019 and is well on its way to becoming a flagship school for students with severe learning difficulties. The project was well-received by the construction industry, winning the Health, Safety and Wellbeing category of the 2019 National Constructing Excellence Awards.

New SEN facilities for Oldham’s young people

Kingfisher School is the only school in Oldham designed for primary-aged children with the most complex and severe learning needs.

As the population of the town has grown – the metropolitan borough is home to more than 235,000 people – demand for places at Kingfisher School has increased by nearly 50% in just over five years.

Oldham Council’s Local Offer paints a vision for the town to be a place where children and young people with SEND can thrive. As high-quality learning environments are essential to that development, the council recognised the need to increase places and improve facilities at Kingfisher School.

Following a competitive tender via the Procure Partnership Framework, Seddon was awarded the £3m design and build contract at the school.

A key element of the works included the installation of a new hydrotherapy pool in the steel-frame extension, to replace the old above-ground pool, which was over 40 years old and had been out of service for some time.

Before the project was put to tender, the school had been raising funds for its replacement via its ‘Big Splash’ appeal. The community raised an impressive £100,000 towards the cost of the new pool, with substantial donations coming from local philanthropist, Sir Norman Stroller, Frank and Judith Rothwell and national charity, St James’s Place. The remaining funds were provided by Oldham Council in line with its Local Offer.

Following a successful partnership on Kingfisher School, Seddon once again asked Innova Care Concepts to design and install the state-of-the-art, stainless steel hydrotherapy pool. Seddon also constructed two new classrooms at the site of the old pool to create engaging learning environments for ‘Safe, Happy Learners’ – the school’s motto.

In addition to the pool, another new building was constructed, this was to host a two-year-old provision for children with severe and complex needs, the first of its kind in the town. Furthermore, the existing building was reconfigured to optimise the learning space available and provide further opportunities for staff to tailor their teaching to each child’s EHCP and learning requirements. Work began in November 2019 and continued through the national coronavirus lockdown.

The children returned to school in June 2020 while Seddon continued to operate the live site, liaising closely with the school to ensure effective communication and as little disturbance to pupils as possible.

Careful consideration was given to safety and disruption throughout the project and a detailed logistics plan was agreed. Deliveries were organised to avoid drop-off and pick-up times, which are particularly busy due to the large number of students being dropped off by parents, arriving by taxi or minibus.

The transformation of Kingfisher School was completed in November 2020 and it can now fully meet the needs of many more pupils with SEND needs for years to come.

Michael Unsworth, Director of Business at Kingfisher Learning Trust, explained what the works meant for the children: “The impact was two-fold: the new pool is a modern-designed, specialist provision for what our children need, and the enhancements to the classroom areas will give us more opportunity to better work with the growing number of children in the school.”

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