Well-designed classrooms can boost learning

Supplementary content information

A University of Salford research project has found clear evidence that well-designed primary school classrooms boost children’s learning progress in reading, writing and maths.

  • Classroom design can boost learning progress by up to 16 per cent a year
  • Light, temperature, air quality, level of stimulation and individualisation in the classroom design were among the biggest physical factors impacting on pupils’ learning progress
  • Research led to quick and cost effective ways for teachers to improve their classrooms

The EPSRC-supported research team, with initial support from architectural firm, IBI Architects (previously Nightingale Associates), looked at 153 classrooms across 27 primary schools in Blackpool and other areas across the UK, collecting data on pupils’ progress. Their findings showed that differences in the physical design of the classrooms explained 16 per cent of the variation in the annual learning progress of the 3,766 pupils involved.

The study considered a wide range of sensory factors and used multi-level statistical modelling techniques to isolate the effects of classroom design from the influences of other factors, such as the pupils themselves and their teachers. The results have generated a high level of interest amongst teachers, designers and policymakers, including the World Bank.  

The team found that the biggest physical factors impacting on pupils’ learning progress were in three areas, stimulation, individualisation and naturalness, or SIN for short. Their research identified many simple, quick and cost-effective ways for teachers to change their classrooms to make a real difference to a child’s performance in reading, writing and maths.

The project was led by Professor Peter Barrett, from the University’s School of the Built Environment. He says: “It has long been known that various aspects of the built environment impact on people in buildings, but this is the first time a holistic assessment has been made that successfully links the overall impact directly to learning rates in schools. The impact identified is in fact greater than we imagined.

 “We’re not talking about major investment on behalf of the school or local authority – quite the opposite. The focus is on simple choices about how classrooms are used and evidence-based decisions when schools are being built.

“I hope our ‘Clever Classrooms’ report will become a valuable asset for teachers and school designers across the UK, and beyond, and can make a real and lasting impact on children’s learning progress at such an important stage in a child’s development.”

John Coe, Chair of the National Association for Primary Education, says: “The research offers sound sense; and teachers, putting children first as always, can improve their classrooms without spending a lot of money.”