Kisharon school builds on the ‘amazing selling point’ of its new £13.5 million Hendon premises

The Noé School and Wohl Campus is a considerable upgrade on the school’s former premises in Temple Fortune


After years of planning, and two of construction work, Kisharon’s new £13.5 million free school building in Hendon opened its doors to its first 44 pupils with special educational needs and disabilities on Monday.

The Noé School and Wohl Campus is a considerable upgrade on the school’s former premises in Temple Fortune, which could only comfortably accommodate around 40 students. The new building has a capacity of 72, better enabling it to meet the growing demand.

For headteacher Sora Kopfstein, the Hendon campus fulfils a long-cherished dream, having been “designed to meet the [diverse] needs of these young people — and to make sure they get the best education possible”.

As well as state-of-the-art classrooms, features of the premises include a sensory stimulation room, a wheelchair swing and a food tech room fitted with worktops of adjustable height. There is mood lighting in the hydrotherapy pool and next year, a 5D virtual reality space will be added to the library. No primary colours have been used in the design as these can agitate autistic children.

There is also an in-house team of therapists and the Pears Unit will support profoundly disabled students.

“This building is an amazing selling point,” said Ms Kopfstein, citing the example of a couple “begging” to send their child after being unwilling for the child to attend the Temple Fortune premises.

“Every little detail we have looked at to make this the best environment.”

Kisharon has received a separate grant for equipment for the sound-proofed music therapy room, where Omar — a former student of Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Centre — now teaches. He finds that students enjoy learning Hebrew songs.

Opening during the pandemic was always going to be challenging and while Ms Kopfstein was confident that pupils would settle in — even those who had spent the past six months at home — she was aware of a level of unease. “We’ve got children who had anxiety before Covid. So it’s not gone away — it’s been enhanced.”

Efforts have been made to make the site as Covid-secure as possible. All fabric upholstery has been covered, touch surfaces are wiped down twice daily and a “hospital level” clean is undertaken after school finishes. Each class will be kept to its “bubbles” and will have its own outdoor spaces. School assembly will be Zoom-ed into classrooms.

Ms Kopfstein lamented the “vague” government guidance for special schools, pointing out that many pupils needed physical support, “whether it’s for getting round the building or for feeding or changing”, limiting staff’s ability to socially distance.

Such is the demand for the school that the local authority has already indicated it would like to place up to 25 more Send (Special educational needs and disabilities) students next year. But Ms Kopfstein says the number will be less than that, because unlike mainstream schools, Kisharon’s — catering for the four-to-19 age group — does not have a set number of annual leavers.

And although confident that the Hendon campus will meet the needs of the community in the short term, she can foresee a point when “we will have to think about waiting lists.

“We’ve only got one more class to open, so we are limited. We can’t create more classes every year just because there are more children, which is sad. All the Barnet schools are full to capacity.”

However, the architects had suggested that it would be possible to build on top of the current structure, adding more classrooms.“So if 72 places is not seen as enough, we could revisit it.”

Kisharon chief executive Richard Franklin adopted a more cautious tone, saying: “I wouldn’t want to prejudge the opinion of the good planning officers at Barnet as to what they would and would not further allow on that site.”

For the moment, Kisharon was “in the best possible position to offer what the community has a need for”.

He saw the new site as part of a “collegiate” network offering facilities run by Kisharon and fellow disability charities Langdon and Gesher to the community.

Mr Franklin’s concerns about the longer term stem from a recent report — which estimated there would be an additional 640 people in the community with learning disabilities by 2035 — as well as the impact of the pandemic on Kisharon’s finances.

“This is going to be an extraordinarily tough year and, indeed, period ahead,” he told the JC.

“There are significant capital investments that are required and will be required for the very best of reasons.”

Meanwhile, the upper level of the school’s former site is being let to Shiras Devorah High School — the lower floor is used for adult services. There are hopes the site might be redeveloped into a sixth-form college or further education facility.

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