PARENTS of deaf children have voiced what they believe to be critical flaws in the design of Peebles High School, due to start being rebuilt this spring.

The Deaf Children’s Group (DCG) circulated a ‘position paper’ to Scottish Borders Council (SBC) officers, councillors and the community in advance of the Eastgate public consultation last week.

That meeting allayed concerns that their views might be ignored.

The group has been advised by an Edinburgh Napier University acoustics expert, Richard Mackenzie, who has worked at its Building Performance Centre for more than 30 years.

DCG spokesperson Heather Young, a member of Peebles Community Council, said: “We are a group of parents of deaf and/or neurodiverse children who will one day attend the new Peebles High School.

“We have raised a number of serious concerns with SBC about the internal plans for the school and whether it will provide a supportive learning environment for our children.

“At the engagement sessions we were pleased to have a number of constructive conversations with SBC and we take this as a positive step towards opening a dialogue with them.

“We have consulted on the internal design for the school with many experts.

“These include educational audiologists, acoustic engineers, professionals in other local authorities, teachers, lip-reading tutors, parents, the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, as well as listening to the views of children who are currently learning in open plan environments.”

Mr Mackenzie said: “The current design will result in unacceptable levels of distraction and disturbance to pupils trying to learn and will be particularly bad for children with hearing loss and children with learning difficulties, going against the principle of inclusivity.”

Ms Young added: “A decision has been taken not to use doors and walls to separate teaching spaces.

“Around 50 per cent of teaching spaces will not be enclosable because, in line with the ‘Strategic Brief 1’ for the school, ‘an open plan approach should be taken, enabling breakout and small group opportunities…learning spaces should be based on clusters’.

“Our findings suggest that this approach will not provide a supportive learning environment for any child and will discriminate against pupils who are deaf, neurodiverse and have other communication needs due to increased levels of background noise and distraction.”

Acoustic audiologist Joe O’Donnell, with 40 years of experience, told the DCG: “When considering the effective learning and teaching of all pupils, open plan schools have been found to be problematic.

“It is crucial for children to hear their teacher in order to achieve their full academic potential and the quality of the acoustic environment has a direct impact on that.

“It is a fact that one in five people over the age of 12 have some form of hearing loss.”

In addition, SBC’s current design has been identified as “high risk” by its own high school project team acoustic consultant.

Ms Young said: “SBC’s aim for a ‘world-class learning environment that will reduce inequality’ will need to do more than meet minimum standards.”

The DCG added: “If retro-fitting is required, which it has been in other schools, then those costs are likely to be significant.”

Ms Young said: “SBC understands that it needs to produce a detailed equality impact assessment as soon as possible. It has to consider how the needs of our children and those with other special educational or communication needs will be taken into account. We have received assurances that this will be shared as soon as possible and we were clear that this needs to take place to inform the design. ”

An SBC spokesperson said: “The event in Peebles last Thursday (February 2), was overwhelming in terms of numbers of people attending.

“The originally intended format was for representatives from a wide range of interest groups to attend, where we could have focused discussions around concerns that they each had. This didn’t really work out as intended, particularly when we opened the 4-8pm session to everyone.

“However, we did capture a range of questions and concerns and as discussed previously, we will be collating and publishing responses to these.

“Officers met on Friday to debrief and we spent some time reviewing the proposed floor plans of the building. Based on the conversations had at the Peebles events, we agreed to make a number of alterations.

“We had further engagement sessions in West Linton and Innerleithen on Monday (February 6). They were attended by fewer people, and so the round table discussions were more effective and we were able to explain some of the alterations that we were proposing to those that attended.

“The next steps are to revise the drawings to reflect the changes and collate the questions and responses.

“For various reasons this will take some time, so I expect them to be available towards the end of February/ early March and we will publish these on the project webpage.”