Town Hall families chief Cllr Caroline Woodley (right) with youngsters at The Pavilion. Photograph: Hackney Council

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville has praised the “world-class” facilities at The Pavilion special school in Clapton – following a £2 million refurbishment that uncovered its links to architectural royalty.

The school’s two single-storey buildings had fallen into disrepair after decades of neglect, but they will now play host to 50 youngsters aged 16-18 who have autism and learning difficulties.

Award-winning architects Gollifer Langston were in charge of the renovation, and it came to light during the project that they had pretty big shoes to fill.

The school is actually one of the first examples of work from the practice of Norman Foster, who designed the Gherkin in London’s square mile and the Millau Viaduct – the world’s tallest bridge – in France.

In 1972, charity Scope – then known as the National Spastics Society – asked Foster Associates to map out an experimental school for young disabled children. It followed changes in the law that, for the first time, saw disabled children approached through an educational rather than just a medical lens. Wendy Foster, Norman’s first wife, was the lead architect.

The school pictured in the 1970s. Photograph: Foster Associates / courtesy Hackney Council

Tim Walder, Hackney Council’s design officer, said: “Wendy Foster’s architecture was lightweight, deeply thoughtful, original and elegant.”

He is nominating the building for a local listing, describing it as a “pioneering place in the history of the education of children with special needs”.

Architect Andy Gollifer said: “We were very excited about the origins of the building and its heritage value. It was an important building at the time – Slade even played at its opening.

“We tried to preserve as much of the original detail as we could to make the space bright and simple.”

The revamp is part of Hackney Council’s mission to create more school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The number of children identified as needing specialist support has jumped almost 50 percent in the last five years.

The new art room at The Pavilion. Photograph: Hackney Council

Mayor Glanville said: “We’re proud that we’ve stepped up to create award-winning, world-class SEND classrooms. Most importantly, we’re rapidly increasing the number of places that provide high-quality teaching and learning environments where children feel that they belong.”

The Pavilion offers a specialist curriculum as well as purpose-built facilities to prepare its students for adult life, including a training cafe and an independent living flat.

Since 2020, 84 SEND places have been created in the borough, including the 50 at The Pavilion.

Cllr Caroline Woodley, cabinet member for families, parks and leisure, said: “Our children, and especially our most vulnerable, deserve the best provision we can offer.”

She added: “We’re committing another £13 million towards creating at least another 300 special school places across Hackney by 2026.”