Class (room) Action

Leith Walk Primary school Victorian classroom

Written by Matthew Boyle

Well designed school classrooms ‘boost academic success’ proclaims a headline on the BBC education news site today.

Click here for the article

This study has looked at 153 classrooms in 27 “very diverse” schools over a three-year period. Its conclusion is that well designed primary classrooms actually do boost academic performance, and to a significant degree. In effect, the authors of this large and peer-reviewed study say that the classroom environment can account for a difference up to about 2/3ds of a normal year’s progress in terms of the expected National Curriculum sub-levels.

The research attributed the effect to

  • individualisation
  • stimulation
  • naturalness

“Of these, the last was the most significant, with air quality, light and temperature playing vital roles and together accounting for half the total impact, he said”.

The degree of visual stimulation in the environment had to be just optimum. Bare walls didn’t seem to be associated with the best progress, neither did overly-filled-busy walls. A degree of flexibility and adaptability of the spaces for individual needs and different teaching styles was also correlated with better performances.

The most significant thing for me about this report is that it dips its toes in the shark-infested waters of quantitative research and has a decent sample size to work from. It seems clear that the most modern, and well designed environments make a difference. Two challenges follow from this for me:

  1. If we are serious about closing the attainment gap for the most disadvantaged, as Andreas Schleicher of OECD has repeatedly challenged us to do, then we must build the best classroom environments in the most underserved communities. Do we do this?
  2. If schools are inspected, and they are working in ghastly buildings with cold classrooms and shocking light with inflexible layouts, HMI/OFSTED etc should have been taking this into account when comparing gradings. I’ll bet they only do this very crudely if at all!


Image from Kim Traynor under Creative Commons licence: Thank you