Can the design of a school help to improve performance?

Andrew Sykes, Managing Director at Heckmondwike FB, discusses why it is what’s inside that counts

UK schools face a shortfall of places, which is expected to worsen in the upcoming years. As a matter of fact, a recent report by Scape Group has warned that the current school system will be overwhelmed in less than 5 years unless drastic action is taken. By 2020, the school age population will indeed grow by almost 10% (increase of 729,000) and the UK local authorities will have the challenge of building 24,287 classrooms to accommodate all new pupils.


Furthermore, most of the school estate is currently in poor condition or insufficiently maintained. Only 5% of 59,967 school buildings examined by the Government in a national survey were classed as performing as intended and operating efficiently. However, this crisis is not just about school places shortage and bad building condition. The school occupants have to be put back at the core of the debate, as they are the ones directly concerned and impacted by those issues. Heckmondwike FB discusses the importance of design and its impact on performance.

As highlighted by a recent RIBA study, poor learning environments are damaging the pupils’ health and education, while putting a strain on teachers and making it harder to retain staff. Highlighting the fact that design alone can have a positive impact on student and teacher’s morale, behaviour, and productivity, the research showed that the environment is as equally important as offering engaging teaching methods.

One of the main recommendations is to focus on design itself. Nine in ten teachers indeed believe that school design is key to provide an effective learning environment and influence pupil educational outcomes, as well as reducing bullying levels. Design elements highly rated by teachers include spacious learning areas, good lighting, good layouts, and wide corridors. Further research by the University of Salford found that well-designed primary schools can actually boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths.

With colour alone influencing a student’s ability by as much as 12%, the research showed that introducing bright colour elements on the floor, wall, or furniture, in a neutral coloured classroom plays a complementary and stimulating role. If this approach is to be applied properly throughout the school, it is key for architects and designers to understand the flow of the building, especially when it comes to specifying flooring material.  

With the average secondary school having approximately 1,750m² of floor space, design teams can often be under a lot of pressure to find the right products to withstand the thousands of pairs of feet stomping the floors, while remaining on budget. When thinking about school corridors and classrooms and their level of traffic, the selected material has to be durable and resistant to the wear and tear, without compromising on aesthetics.

Product development has come far over the past 10 years in the flooring industry, particularly in terms of colours and patterns, as well as formats and cut to size possibility. Furthermore, when it comes to carpet tiles for instance, specific designs can be created on the floors to represent the school badges, create directional walkway, defining corridors depending on age groups or subject matters.

So what’s the answer to the question – ‘can the design of a school help improve performance’? It is not just performance, but in fact the overall wellbeing and morale of everyone within the building that can be enhanced by well-designed learning spaces. It can also help create school identity, giving pupils and staff a sense of ownership and belonging to their institution.

For more information about Heckmondwike FB, visit their website.



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