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Does school design matter?

28 September 2010

The quality of school buildings varies widely across Britain. This is not just about their age or setting. It's about the fabric and the layout of the buildings and the grounds. Does this make a difference to the education of the pupils who go there?

The Brunel Academy in Bristol

The number of pupils at the Brunel Academy who said bullying was an issue dropped by 23% compared with the previous school. Photo by Michele Turriani.

Clearly, the quality of teaching has the biggest impact on pupil attainment. But evidence suggests that school design will also affect the performance of a school in a number of critical ways (PDF). These include the behaviour, well-being and achievement of pupils, as well as the recruitment and retention of teachers, and the sustainability of the school itself. The impact will vary. But common sense, as well as academic research, indicates that a good learning environment will make for better teaching and learning.

95.8% of teachers agreed that the school environment had an influence on pupil behaviour.

This is reflected in the views of teachers. A survey conducted by the Teacher Support Network and the British Council for School Environments (BCSE) with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) showed that teachers overwhelmingly agreed (95.8%) that the school environment had an influence on pupil behaviour.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for school design emerges from the experience of individual schools. The National Foundation for Educational Research carried out a study at Bristol Brunel Academy, which opened in 2007. This showed that the number of pupils who said bullying was an issue for them had dropped by 23% compared with the school it replaced. Vandalism had dropped by 51%, and the number of pupils who say they “feel safe” had risen by 30%.

On the CABE website you can find case studies of schools, like the Lambeth Academy or Redhill Primary School, which illustrate the extraordinary potential of good school design. There is also practical advice to help teachers, contractors and local authorities faced with the task of building or refurbishing a school.

More about school design

  • School design case studies

    School design case studies

    Examples of how high quality design affects the lives of pupils and teachers, with expert evaluations of what works and what doesn't in each case.

  • Publications about school design

    Publications about school design

    Expert technical advice for everyone involved in designing and delivering schools in England.

  • School refurbishment

    School refurbishment

    The design quality of a refurbished school can make the difference between a successful project and an expensive failure.


Your comments

Jay-D on

In the first instance, the quality of education should not be compromised at all, irrespective the situation. As cited in the article, school design including environment does influence or contribute towards overall student behavioural patterns. Finding a common balance between the two would most likely prove more benificial, especially with a recovering economy. After all the kids are the "future of tomorrow", so why not indirectly invest in them.