September 27, 2018

According to a report from the London Assembly Education Panel, there has been a 20% increase in the past decade in the number of children with high-level education needs. Now, over 200,000 children and young people in London have some form of special education need (SEN) or disability. The same panel reports a shortage of school spaces to accommodate these children and provide the facilities they need to thrive.

Quality outdoor space is vital to every school environment, especially for the learning and development of young children. However, such space is sorely lacking in many schools. This is due to low levels of funding, and subsequent lack of support and facilities for pupils with SEN.

How quality outdoor space aids development

It’s a well-known fact that the outdoors relieves stress and anxiety, allowing children to develop better social skills and feel more in touch with their natural surroundings. What’s more, exercise helps children with SEN gain muscle strength, coordination and flexibility – the majority of which takes place outside.

In 2016, The Guardian published an article arguing that nature is the best way to nurture pupils with special educational needs. The article explored the potential for outdoor education to foster independence in SEN students.

SEN students have often learned helplessness and passivity because, consciously or not, we as practitioners exert a huge amount of control and [going outdoors] forces us to relinquish that. Giving SEN students that feeling of space, and the sensory stimulation that comes with being outdoors, is absolutely vital,”

Andrew Colley, lecturer in special education at the Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London.

SEN spaces: what’s the solution?

While it’s hard to argue against the benefits of outdoor learning for pupils with SEN, many schools lack the space and facilities to accommodate it. For outdoor learning to be effective, the space needs to be structured appropriately to meet the changing needs of the pupils.

What’s needed are green spaces with canopies and safe, covered walkways – as well as enclosed outdoor spaces so children can practice independence without compromising on safety. Quiet zones are also a good idea, as some SEN children tend to be more introverted (or extroverted) than others.

Active zones can also be positioned in other areas of the space for children who wish to participate. Examples might include ball games, climbing and outdoor painting. All-weather sports canopies can also help pupils get the exercise they need, come rain or shine.

The London Assembly Education Panel has put together a report entitled, “Together: Transforming the lives of children and young people with special education needs and disabilities in London.” Their aim is to put pressure on the government to allocate more school funding for indoor and outdoor spaces for those with SEN, in addition to the creation of new schools.

How we can help

At Streetspace, we deliver functional, affordable outdoor space projects that cater to a variety of needs and purposes. With years of experience in architectural design, we always work to government building regulations, while recommending the most visually-appealing solutions for your needs. For more information about what we do, take a look at our case studies or call us on 08450 750 760.