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New study warns of risks from 15% smaller schools

Fresh research has claimed better classroom environments can increase academic attainment by as much as 25 per cent

The peer-reviewed study by Nightingale Associates and the University of Salford exposes the potential risks linked to the government’s new standardised templates for schools.

Designed by Bond Bryan, Anshen and Allen and HLM, the baseline designs for 261 planned new schools are up to 15 per cent smaller and £6 million cheaper each than earlier designs.

Nightingale’s ‘holistic’ investigation collected data from 751 pupils, comparing their academic performance level in maths, reading and writing at the start and end of an academic year.

Simultaneously, the assement explored aspects of the children’s learning environment such as classroom orientation, natural light, noise, temperature and air quality. It also examined colour, flexibility of space, storage facilities and organisation.

The study found a 73 per cent of variation in pupil performance could be explained by building environment factors.

Caroline Paradise of Nightingale Associates said: ‘Currently the Government is looking to reduce school building costs significantly. Our study provides evidence that the built environment plays a significant role in the learning progression of children. Our initial findings suggest that flexibility within the classroom, empowering teachers to utilise the space for various teaching methods has an impact on learning outcomes.  It is important that the base line designs allow for this flexibility of use within the classroom.’

She added: ‘Another significant factor is the quality and control of both artificial and natural light. When assessed, over 50% of the classrooms did not have appropriate lighting levels.  The study identifies the value of natural light from two orientations suggesting that a good distribution of light and awareness of the daily change in light quality are crucial. Consideration of this within the baseline designs it key to their success.’

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 and the Salford team is looking forward to building on these clear results’.

The RIBA has already blasted the government’s standardised schools plans, claiming they will ‘deprive’ students and teachers of quality learning environments

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