Gove urged to reconsider move that disregards two-year-old regulations based on expert research

The Department for Education is planning to cut space standards for special schools by up to 20%, discarding existing regulations that are just two years old and based on expert research into the needs of pupils with disabilities.

In a cost-cutting move that has alarmed architects and others involved in special needs education, the DfE confirmed that it is planning to cut the standards on gross floor area in special schools set out under Building Bulletin (BB) 102, “by up to 20% for teaching spaces”.

Rather than reduce the space standards in special schools we should apply them to mainstream schools to enable them to be more inclusive

Lorraine Petersen, Nasen

The revelation comes amid growing concern about the state of the severely delayed £2bn Priority Schools Building Programme and follows news in Building last week that gross floor areas are set to be cut by an average of 15% on secondary schools and 5% on primaries.

President of the RIBA Angela Brady joined the British Council for School Environments (BCSE), learning disability charity Mencap and Nasen - the leading association in the special needs sector - in urging education secretary Michael Gove to reconsider.

Brady said it would be a “huge setback” to ignore the lessons that informed BB102.

“Standards for special needs schools are only two years old and were born out of extensive research and work with special needs teachers,” she said, adding that a wider reduction in school building standards risked schools becoming “redundant”.

Leading schools architect Simon Foxell of the Architects Practice claimed a “tragedy” was looming for vulnerable children unless the government changed course.

“What has been developed from years of research on suitable teaching environments is apparently being radically reduced for cost rather than educational reasons,” he said.

David Congdon, Mencap head of policy, warned that schools were obliged to accommodate the needs of special needs pupils by law.

He said: “We are concerned that these new space standards have the potential to restrict access for some disabled children, particularly those with profound and multiple learning disabilities who often require extra equipment to attend school.

“With the increasing freedoms to establish new schools across the country, it is important to remember that every child with a learning disability has a right to attend a school that meets their needs.”

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of Nasen, also voiced “deep concern” at the plans. “Rather than reduce the space standards in special schools we should apply them to mainstream schools to enable them to be more inclusive,” she added.

Nusrat Faizullah, BCSE chief executive, said move could have a “real impact” on students with disabilities and urged the government to “look at the research and evidence” on the requirements of special needs schools.

“We’re very concerned about the impact it will have on children. All the evidence shows that students with special needs do need space and cutting backing on standards in that way will effect their learning outcomes,” she said.

A DfE spokeswoman said BB102 had not distinguished between different types of special schools, and said schools for those with the most severe difficulties would only be reduced in size by around 10%. She said the move had been based on “detailed research and evidence from BSF and other building projects”.

“This was carefully researched to ensure this reduction need not affect teaching,” she added.