Does classroom and school design impact pupil performance?

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Does classroom and school design impact pupil performance?

The short answer to this question is yes. For many years there was a theory that classroom design could directly influence behaviour and performance of pupils, but no real study to support the theory existed.


2am has a number of schools and colleges as clients, supporting them with creative design, website development and, more recently, we have been asked to apply the creative design process to the physicality of the school buildings themselves.

These environmental design projects are a great opportunity to think big in the literal sense and use design to inspire pupils.

But why the peak in interest? And is there any evidence to suggest that environmental design can influence academic performance in any way?

‘The Study of School Design’, the first such study of its kind, was conducted by the University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment in partnership with architectural firm Nightingale Associates. The researchers assessed 751 pupils across seven primary schools in Blackpool over the 2011–12 academic year.

Whilst they anticipated the learning environments might impact upon performance, the extent of the impact had never before been evaluated. The study revealed that school design and layouts can influence a child’s development by 25%, either positively or negatively over the course of an academic year.

The results clearly show that the architecture and design of classrooms has a significant role to play in influencing academic performance. Six of the environmental factors—colour, choice, connection, complexity, flexibility and light—were clearly correlated with grade scores.

Architect Peter Barrett, the study’s lead author, said: “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.”

According to the results, once the differences between the ‘worst’ and ‘best’ designed classrooms looked at in the study were taken into account, it was found to be equivalent to the progress a typical pupil would be expected to make over a year.

Inspired by the publication of the study findings, Unity Academy selected 2am to transform the schools interior corridors and communal areas.

“2am has played a key role in the transformation of Unity Academy’s learning environment, creating a vibrant and visually stunning design throughout our school, which supports both the school’s ethos and pupil learning. The results are tremendous, ensuring that, whether you are a child or an adult, Unity is a place you want to be,” said Chris Lickiss, Head Teacher at Unity Academy.

Following the Unity Academy environmental design project, 2am was also approached by Aspire Academy. The team at Aspire was keen to replicate Unity’s transformation, not only in terms of the physical space, but in the resulting positivity within the school.

Although the brand new building that housed Aspire Academy offered state-of-the-art facilities, the plain interior walls did not provide enough inspiration to reflect the academy’s values and its strapline of ‘Success, nothing less’.

A design solution was required that was both educational and inspirational in order to remind students that great things can be achieved through dedication and hard work.

Now covering the interior corridors of the academy are carefully selected quotes, achievements and bite-sized facts relating to political leaders, scientists, musicians, artists, historical figures and industry leaders past and present.

Deputy Principal John Topping was delighted with the transformation, stating: “The concept and artwork created by 2am have completely transformed the space and the students love the contemporary learning environment we have successfully created. Visitors to the academy are impressed and inspired by the quality of the murals”.

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