Study links classroom environment to learning

8 November 2012

Did you know that the primary school your company helped to build or refurbish will have had a  significant impact on learning progression, and that the difference between learning in the best and worst classrooms could equate to one year in school?

The study found a link between learning environments and academic achievement

That’s the startling conclusion of a new report from the University of  Salford and architect Nightingale Associates, which establishes a strong link between classroom environment and learning rates in schools.

The pilot study, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and commissioned by Nightingale’s research and development team THiNK, looked at the performance of 751 primary school pupils at seven different Blackpool LEA schools over the course of the academic year September 2011 to June 2012.

The assessment recorded data on the childrens’ age, gender and performance levels in maths, reading and writing at both the start and the end of the academic year.

Simultaneously, the study assessed the overall environment of 34 different classrooms, taking into account classroom orientation, natural light, noise, temperature and air quality. Overall, 10 different design factors were evaluated in the statistical model.

Comparing the “worst” and “best” classrooms in the sample, classroom design factors were found to have an impact of 11 points, the same increase that a pupil would be typically expected to make over the course of one year.

On average, the researchers found that the impact of built environment factors on learning progression averaged 25%, with the other relevant factors being the child itself, the home environment and the school overall.

Professor Peter Barrett, from the School of the Built Environment at the University of Salford, said: “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.”

Caroline Paradise from Nightingale Associates, who leads the firm’s design research team, said: “We are excited by these early findings, which suggest that the classroom plays an important role in pupil performance. This will support designers and educators in targeting investment in school buildings to where it will have the most impact, whether new build or refurbishment.”

The study will continue for another 18 months and cover another 20 schools in different areas of the UK. Nightingale Associates plans to use these initial findings to inform its school designs and work with schools undertaking refurbishment or build new projects.

The study is being published in the academic journal, Building and Environment


How have they factored in such variables as teacher experience and qualifications, the local demography etc.? These will all play a major role in influencing the education of children.
I just cannot see how taking the quality of a classroom as a standalone element can provide a reasonable argument.

Peter Higgins, 9 November 2012

Thank you for your interest. We factored in a comprehensive range of factors and then used multi-level modelling to isolate the built environment aspects operating at the class level. This is all spelt out in the journal paper at:

Peter Barrett, 9 November 2012

With a good knowledge of lighting design, having been to school, and continually reading on the effects of lighting on education and health care, I completely agree with this article.
There is scientific evidence that correct levels of the correct wavelength light has dramatic effects on the ability to learn (education) and recover (health care)

Ben Fazakerley, 20 November 2012

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