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Design principles at SEN schools under microscope

HLM Architects and The Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) will host a webinar later this month exploring the principles of designing spaces for Special Education Needs (SEN) school projects.

Organised by HLM Architects in partnership with the RSUA, the ‘SEN Schools Today’ webinar will go live on Friday 27 November and will be chaired by RSUA Chairperson, Donal MacRandal. Key presenters will include Catherine Ward and Simon Bell (HLM Architects), Holly Passmore (Psychology + Spaces), and Conor Houston (Fleming Fulton Special School).

With this year demonstrating how critical the balance is between safe, nurturing yet stimulating environments, particularly in SEN Schools, the webinar will be a timely reminder of how thoughtful design has never been more important.

Recent statistics revealed that there are more than 67,000 children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland’s schools, with the Education Authority’s support for children with SEN across mainstream and special schools reaching £311m in 2019-20.* Figures last year also highlighted that there were 140 special schools catering for particular types of disability and special needs in the Republic of Ireland.

The webinar will also include a panel discussion after the presentations to generate further discussion on this important topic.  Architects Arthur Sloan (Isherwood and Ellis) and Ciaran Mackel (ARdMackel Architects) will also take part in this expert Q&A panel discussion to dive deeper into the challenges that the current pandemic has generated in the context of designing learner spaces.

Commenting on the event, RSUA Chairperson Donal MacRandal said, “The pandemic has really brought into sharp focus the importance of providing education for our children, particularly in SEN schools, where stimulation and safety are crucial considerations.  Investment in the quality of our educational environments is one which we know society recoups many times over.

“We are proud to partner with the organisers of this webinar which brings in a wide range of sector-specific expertise from both architects and clients who have delivered buildings which help ensure that every child can reach their full potential.  I am confident the debate will help deliver even better spaces for our young people”.

Speaker Catherine Ward, an Associate Architect at HLM and the company’s SEN Lead has over twenty years’ experience in architectural practice, working predominantly on education projects throughout the UK including HE, FE, Schools and SEN. In her role at HLM, Catherine manages the development of HLM’s special education portfolio and profile nationally. Simon Bell, Director and Sustainability Sponsor at HLM, will also be joining Catherine to discuss how to approach SEN projects locally and the sustainability factors.

Commenting on the upcoming webinar, Catherine Ward (HLM Architects) said: “We are living in a time of flux, and more than ever we need to make the most out of essential spaces for learners. The focus now needs to be on what can be done with spaces to provide safety, while maintaining supportive and effective learning for young people. I look forward to debating how we can use these ideas to develop and further enhance future learning environments.”

Conor Houston is the Chairman of the Board of Governors of Fleming Fulton Special School and founder of civic initiative, Connected Citizens and works to promote active citizenship and is passionate about creating the space for citizens to co-design solutions for our society.

Holly Passmore, Researcher at Psychology + Spaces is particularly interested in exploring how Covid-19 will impact children and young people’s current and future health, well-being and opportunities.

The webinar is part of a series of online events being hosted by RSUA this autumn.

To register for the webinar please visit


For more information about HLM Architects visit www.hlmarchitects.com