Multi-sensory environments

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Late in 2006, SpaceKraft completed work on a major four-year project to design and install an extensive array of multi-sensory equipment across 20 separate areas of the new purpose-built Bridge Special School in Telford, Shropshire.

The Hadley Learning Community (HLC) is a £70 million PFI (Private Finance Initiative) project which has created a 21st century learning campus incorporating three schools within a single, modern highly technological building on a 39-acre site in the community of Hadley in central Telford. Initiated by the Borough of Telford and Wrekin in partnership with the Interserve services, maintenance and building group, HLC was envisioned as a full service extended school for pupils aged 0 to 16 years, providing education in three phases as well as extensive community facilities for sport, the arts and life-long learning.

The campus consists of a primary school 420 pupils with a 64-place nursery, a secondary school for 1,100 pupils aged 11 to 16, and The Bridge Special School, a centre for children with severe and profound learning and physical disabilities.

Formerly based at two restrictive and increasingly unsuitable sites in Brookside and Stirchley, The Bridge School was relocated at the new purpose-built facilities on the Hadley campus in January 2007. Serving the whole of the Borough of Telford and Wrekin, the school provides for 162 severe/profound learning disability pupils aged
5 to 19 years, many of whom have additional needs including physical disabilities, sensory impairment and autism. In addition the school runs an assessment nursery where up to 40 part-time pupils from as young as 2.5 years undergo statutory assessment.

SpaceKraft became involved with the Bridge School part of the HLC project from its inception early in 2004. Working closely with Head Teacher Una Van-Den-Berg and Deputy Head Teacher Heather Davis, together with Andrew Jones from Interserve, SpaceKraft developed the design and specification of 20 sensory areas that would become a vital part of the school’s curriculum. The Head Teacher and Deputy Head Teacher had a clear brief for the sensory equipment which would be included in the new school and, in conjunction with Interserve, SpaceKraft established a schedule of equipment which would meet with their requirements.

Heather Davis explains, “All our staff were very heavily involved in the design of the new school, really thinking through the needs of the pupils now and what was going to be an effective provision for them in the future. We went back to what was going to be the best way to help them to learn and then build the facilities around that. We had to project into the future because the school has been built with an expected 25 to 30 year lifespan as a PFI building, so we had to also think about the changing needs of the changing population that we can see coming through early years, and think about how that will effect educational provision much further down the line. “

“We had a very extensive knowledge of who we were providing for – knowledge of the children and how best to help them to learn. We had a really clear idea of how we wanted to plan the curriculum and how we felt it was best to reduce the barriers to learning that our children have. We had worked with SpaceKraft before on two very small rooms at the old school sites, so we had already established a professional relationship with them. Because of this, we were able to go to SpaceKraft® and say,
‘This is what we are trying to achieve and this is what we feel the children really need – what have you got that will help us to do that?’ Obviously, they knew their product, so they were able to show us all sorts of things that matched our ideas of what we wanted.”

An essential part of the brief was that the fve key stages of primary and secondary education would each have their own Whiteroom and Blackroom, with each room designed to support the differing requirements of the pupils as they advance through the school. In addition, it was important that pupils who would remain at the same level throughout their education were also provided for, enabling them to benefit from working with a changing variety of sensory equipment pitched at that level. The moderate sizes of the rooms were deliberately chosen, to enable the teachers to work with individual children or with small groups of children, as the school’s, staff have found this to be the most effective way of working with their pupils in multi-sensory environments such as these.

SpaceKraft designed and installed five multi-sensory Whiterooms, equipping each with SpaceKraft’s exclusive Sensory Show Magic interactive sound video and lighting system. The rooms also incorporate a wide variety of sensory equipment such as Bubble Tubes, Fibre-Optic Sideglows, Infinity Tunnels and Musical Hopscotch Pads. Similarly, the five Blackrooms were fitted with interactive switch control a feature a range of SpaceKraft UV and Fibre-Optic products as well as a variety of other Blackroom equipment such as Sound activated Catherine Wheels, Interactive Infinity Tunnels and various wall-mounted panels including LED Bubble Panels, Sound to Light Panels, UV Tactile Panels and Touch Panels.

Two different Softplay rooms were developed for the school. One room was designed for younger children undertaking simple play activities in the safe Softplay environment, and was furnished with Softplay Dens, Steps, Stepping Stones and a Geometric Jungle. The other room was designed to encourage more interactive play by including Softplay Noisy products with auditory rewards – Stepping Blocks, Steps and Slide – in addition to Space Tubes and a Softplay Den. Both rooms were lined with Softplay Walls and Floors, which also formed the structure of four Soft Calming rooms at the school.

SpaceKraft ftted the school’s Hydrotherapy pool with Sensory Show Magic interactive sound and lighting, and the Show Magic System was also installed in the Music room, the school’s Music and Drama Hall, and a science classroom.

As the Show Magic System enables the teachers to design flexible programmes of learning, entertainment or play, the endless possibilities for providing students with interactive audio-visual experiences has proved to be a vital teaching aid, greatly enhancing understanding in maths and science lessons and encouraging participation in drama and music activities. With the Show Magic technology being common to all of the sensory areas of the school, the teachers only required training in the one system before they were capable of programming and operating the audio-visual equipment throughout the school.

In addition to its primary function at the core of The Bridge School’s curriculum, the multi-sensory equipment installed by SpaceKraft has also greatly benefited the school’s inclusion work. Local therapists are invited to use the hydrotherapy pool and the multi-sensory rooms for assessments or ongoing work with their own clients, while teachers and pupils from the two mainstream schools within the Hadley learning Community building are also encouraged to visit and use the Show Magic audio-visual facilities for projects and learning programmes of their own, helping to engage mainstream pupils in mathematics, science and literacy.

Deputy Head Teacher Heather Davis explains, “Our vision, in terms of inclusion, is that the facilities that we have here should be available to the community as a whole, bringing our pupils into social contact with members of the community and vice versa. Interaction of this kind is very important to our pupils’ understanding of the world beyond the walls of the school, as well as promoting understanding of our pupils in the minds of the visitors, the majority of whom would otherwise have no contact with youngsters with severe and profound learning and physical disabilities. The facilities that SpaceKraft have provided are fantastic tools for encouraging a meaningful social interaction between our pupils and the mainstream community.”

The ongoing inclusion programme at The Bridge School has proved so successful that in November 2007, it was announced that the school had won the 2007 BECTA Award for Excellence in ICT Practice in the Inclusion (Primary) category.

BECTA (Bringing Education Creativity To All) is the Government’s key partner in the strategic development and delivery of its information and communications technology (ICT). The Inclusion category of the BECTA Awards recognises and rewards schools who have developed the use of ICT in a way which supports inclusion and promotes access to learning, particularly beyond the learning of ICT skills.

Taken from 21 Century Schools, Volume 3:3