Improving access in schools: an interview with Jane Simpson

20150919_130659An Architect and NRAC registered Access Consultant, Jane is the Director of her own company; Jane Simpson Access Ltd. She has over two decades of experience in inclusion and is noted for her knowledge of the educational sector. She provides advice on a broad range of issues, often clarifying complex aspects of the Equality Act 2010, Special Education Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) and other statutory and legislative information. Her work encompasses policy, strategy, education, training and engaging with client, design and contractor teams on a variety of projects, from infrastructure, through detailed design to handover.


Tell me about your first school.

I loved my first school, a large stone building with high ceilings and lots of light. There were only two classes, but it helped that my mum was the primary school teacher.

Were there places in the school that you particularly liked?

I loved the outside, large playground and the junior room as you could see out of the windows.

And places you disliked?

The primary room.  There was no window view and I hated the pre -fab where we had lunch and did PE!

Did you ever design a school when you were training to be an architect?


What is the value of having someone in your role to advise about access and inclusion in schools?

We understand the diversity and needs/impairments to assist in designing out barriers and encourage independent, safe and usable spaces for curriculum and social areas.

Do you notice particular and different challenges in school buildings of different ages?

Victorian schools tend to have issues with level access, sanitary facilities and acoustics but the room sizes are normally larger and have more flexibility for alteration.  Post-World War II schools often have narrow corridors, poor light, narrow doors and little changes are not possible without radical change.

Are there particular issues that arise in terms of inclusion and access when working with a small classroom or school space?

Circulation, of course, for both.  In mainstream, highly-serviced areas, including design technology and home economics, it is generally difficult to achieve access with small rooms. There is a lack of storage space that can be accessed from classrooms for all schools but particularly special (SEN) schools. Small areas for SEN schools with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities also reduces usage dramatically.

If you could change just one thing about schools overnight what would it be?

Dedicated minimum access standards, including more understanding of the value of acoustics, spaces, say 25% larger, for accessible rooms (but not necessarily all rooms) and adequate facilities for all ages of disabled pupils, for all mainstream schools.

An architect and a teacher are having coffee: what should they talk about?

Functionality, security, well-being, timetabling and flexibility of spaces.

What do you imagine for schools in fifty years time?

I hope that the work undertaken previously is reverted to, providing rectangular rooms (flexibility in teaching), larger natural light filled rooms, adequate storage, community rooms to bring not only the community in but also co-ordinate with external support services.  Also, fully inclusive mainstream schools with attached units wherever possible to give the maximum flexibility for children with disabilities and/or SEN to achieve the optimum wherever possible.




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