The Deaf Academy

A world-leading bespoke new school for Deaf young people.

Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education

The Deaf Academy is a unique charity which offers young people with a range of abilities and complex needs – all of whom are deaf – a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow.

We were appointed to develop proposals for the relocation of the existing academy in Exeter to a new site in Exmouth. We were retained for planning, architecture, building surveying, and landscape design services from inception to completion.

We worked alongside our client to create a new, world-leading educational facility for pupils (aged 5 to 25) which includes a state-of-the-art teaching hub, new residential block, a multi-use games area, and refurbished theatre.

Our unique brief

The school’s guiding philosophy was ‘reverse inclusion’ – prioritising the needs of Deaf and disabled students and then reverse engineering the resulting design for hearing people.

Our brief was to rationalise the existing assets where appropriate and design new accommodation to foster social and emotional wellbeing so that new students can quickly find a safe haven in which to learn, build peer friendships, and prepare for the wider world.

An optimal bespoke facility

New classrooms are clustered around a central ‘Learning Forest’ in the main educational hub. This shared atrium space is a focal point for the academy providing a lively place for pupils from different classes to meet, dine, and learn.

Classrooms are arranged in pairs, with a shared ‘Da Vinci’ space between the two providing a flexible breakout learning zone for small groups.


The needs of Deaf people are unique. The development of the design for the new Academy buildings as inclusive and “Deaf Friendly” spaces has been a fascinating process. We have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and it has been inspiring to work on a project that will improve the lives of students and enhance their learning outcomes.

Carl Harding, Divisional Director, Stride Treglown

Considered acoustics

Our design ensures acoustic separation between spaces and limits noise transmission and reverberation, which can be highly disruptive to those who use hearing assistance devices.

We paid careful attention to room acoustics through surface finishes and noise-attenuating construction, particularly in the learning hub’s atrium where a canopy of sound-absorbent baffles and wall surface treatments control reverberation times.

Unobstructed sightlines

Communication by sign language depends crucially on unobstructed sightlines. All spaces are flexible enough to allow for semi-circular congregation layouts. For example, classroom seats can be arranged in horseshoes so that students can see the teacher and each other.

Considered lighting

Daylighting throughout the new buildings has been carefully considered to mitigate solar glare. Windows are orientated to the north, incorporate blinds, and have been specified with anti-glare glazing, while colourful bespoke hoods shield them from direct sun. Learning spaces have been laid out to avoid unwarranted silhouetting and the artificial lighting provides even, balanced light.

Bespoke circulation space

Corridors are wide enough to allow two signers to chat side by side while another person passes.

Health and safety in use

We mitigated the raised risk of collisions, which Deaf people can have through lack of audio cues, by rounding off corners with obstructed views and using glazed doors and walls.

Privacy and dignity through design

Our design enhances confidentiality with semi-private pods in the atrium and etched glazing into staff offices.


The Deaf Academy welcomed its students to their new home in September 2020.

I believe that the Deaf Academy will be an exemplar for how public spaces can be accessible for Deaf people and as such will have a far wider impact that just on the students who use it.

The Rt Hon. The Lord Bruce of Bennachie, Special Representative, DeafKidz