Does Your School Have Clever Classrooms?

How are children influenced by their classroom spaces?

We all know that school and classroom design impacts on learning. It really matters. But what’s the evidence?

I’ve written before about the HEAD (Holistic Evidence and Design) project and their summary report Clever Classrooms in relation to displays.

This report has slipped in and out of the educational news since it was published in 2015 but hasn’t been high profile enough in my view.

If there is one report that all teachers need to read before heading back to their classrooms it’s Clever Classrooms. Here’s why: “differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explain 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year for the 3766 pupils included in the study”.

The findings can really help shape future design as well as help teachers think more about the things they can change where they are currently working. Many don’t have to cost lots of money and can be implemented now to supercharge children’s learning.

Professor Peter Barrett and his team at Salford University studied 153 primary school classrooms in 27 schools to measure school and classroom features in relation to environmental factors and non-e factors. They looked at at three design principles to develop ten design parameters:

  • Naturalness: light, sound, temperature, air quality and links to nature;
  • Individualisation: ownership, flexibility and connection;
  • Stimulation (appropriate level of): complexity and colour.

The following video is a great one for getting up to speed and for getting to know what the report is all about.

The way we interact with our environment and the impact on student outcomes is very significant. The report says,

The single most important finding reported here, is that there is clear evidence that the physical characteristics of primary schools do impact on pupils’ learning progress in reading, writing and mathematics.

The final results of their holistic, multi-level analysis has been able to identify and typify the elements of design that together appear to lead to optimal learning spaces for primary school pupils as follows:

Design principle Design parameter Good classroom features
Naturalness Light Classroom towards the east and west can receive abundant daylight and have a low risk of glare. Oversize glazing has to be avoided especially when the room is towards the sun’s path for most of year. Also, more electrical lighting with higher quality can provide a better visual environment.
Temperature The classroom receives little sun heat or has adequate external shading devices. Also, radiator with a thermostat in each room gives pupils more opportunities to adapt themselves to the thermal environment.
Air quality Large room volume with big window opening size at different heights can provide ventilation options for varying conditions.
Individualisation Ownership Classroom that has distinct design characteristics; personalized display and high quality chairs and desks are more likely to provide a sense of ownership.
Flexibility Larger, simpler areas for older children, but more varied plan shapes for younger pupils. Easy access to attached breakout space and widened corridor for pupils’ storage. Well-defined learning zones that facilitate age-appropriate learning options, plus a big wall area for display.
Stimulation Complexity The room layout, ceiling and display can catch the pupils’ attention but in balance with a degree of order without cluttered and noisy feelings.
Colour White walls with a feature wall (highlighting with vivid and or light colour) produces a good level of stimulation. Bright colour on furniture and display are introduced as accents to the overall environment.

Arguably there are not good or bad schools, but rather each classroom has to be considered and a school created “inside out”.

See also the following video of a presentation given by Professor Barrett given at the University of Oxford in 2016 and the following PowerPoint at the World Bank in Kazakhstan.

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