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Inclusive school design principles for vibrant, welcoming schools

Alex Shulman |   April 30, 2024 at 10:00 AM

 Inclusive school design principles for vibrant, welcoming schools

Gone are the days when schools were designed on a one-size-fits-all basis. Today, educators increasingly recognise the importance of inclusive school design and creating learning environments that cater to diverse needs, abilities and cultural backgrounds.

In this article, we share how colour and paint can create vibrant, inclusive schools for neurodiverse and culturally diverse students and how Universal Design principles can be used to create accessible spaces.

How colour and paint can foster inclusivity

When many of us think back to the colour palette of our school years, we recall drab greys and dull whites. These colours were an artefact of a time when less was known about the important interaction between physical environment and learning, the psychology of colour, and less emphasis was placed on the importance of inclusive school design.

With increasing cultural awareness and a growing body of research on school design for inclusivity, researchers have made the following recommendations on how incorporating colour and paint into your school environment.

Accessibility for neurodiverse students

Most people wouldn’t consider colour as an important accessibility consideration, but there is a rich science to the relationship between how neurodiverse people respond to colour and how it can affect their learning. Research has shown that mellow shades, for example, tend to be autism-friendly, promoting calm and focus, while bright and bold colours can be overstimulating. The study concludes that autism-friendly colour palettes can have a pronounced effect on student wellbeing and improved cognitive functioning in the classroom.

How colour can be used to promote cultural awareness

As above, bright and bold colours can be distracting for neurodiverse students in the classroom, but in the playground, murals are an excellent way to create a culturally vibrant and welcoming environment. This is referred to as culturally nourishing schooling.

“The culturally nourishing schooling project acknowledges and builds into our program that, engagement is about culture and about student and community identities,”

Says UNSW Scientia Indigenous Fellow, Associate Professor Kevin Lowe.

“We know that when schools really attend to understanding student aspirations of being involved in culture and community, they nourish their identity, and they do better.”

Murals allow students to see their cultural identity in the school environment, helping them feel engaged and included, with their identity reflected by their surroundings. And if there are students at the school with a knack for the arts, even better. Allowing students to paint playground murals can foster a sense of student and cultural engagement and school pride.

Universal design for accessible schools

While colour and aesthetics play a role in cognitive, emotional and cultural well-being, it’s also essential to consider functional accessibility. According to Inclusive School Communities Australia, accessibility is defined as “easy to reach, enter, obtain, use, understand or appreciate” for people of all abilities. It goes beyond physical accessibility such as ramps or elevators.

It also encompasses:

  • Clear and multisensory signage (such as braille and enlarged print)
  • Wider doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or other mobility aids
  • Colour-coded hallways for easy navigation
  • Assisted learning technologies
  • Adaptable furniture and equipment (height-adjustable desks and tables)

This is where the principles of Universal Design for inclusivity come in.

These are:

  • Equitable educational experience
  • Flexible material and instruction
  • Predictable structure and instruction
  • Perceptible information
  • Mistakes are tolerated
  • Eliminate unnecessary physical effort
  • Physical accessibility

While many of these principles are built into the school curriculum, a holistic approach to education requires the school environment itself to adhere to them, too. By incorporating these principles into the school design, educators can create an inclusive environment that supports the diverse needs of all students. By working together with students, parents and the community, schools can create a vibrant and inclusive environment that fosters a sense of belonging and promotes academic success for all.

Download our Guide to School Management to learn how to better plan, coordinate and oversee your school operations today.

Higgins Coatings provides Australia's schools with building maintenance plans, commercial painting, and refurbishment services in select areas. We understand that school facilities need to make a good impression on parents, students, and alumni at all times. Our preventative maintenance plans are designed to keep your school or educational facility looking its best while working within your timing, budget, and safety requirements. Higgins has an ISO tri-certification accreditation in safety, quality and the environment. Contact us today to learn more about our school painting maintenance solutions.