Every school and college must look to provide school facilities which enable students not only to learn, but to be inspired. In order to achieve this new school refurbishment projects must in the words of the UK government “provide a light, bright and airy learning environment for students and teachers … to address problems such as dark corridors, poor ventilation and inadequate classrooms and to make the very best use of space.”
The government have issued guidance on base line designs for schools which outline the standards all schools should be working to for school building design, refurbishment and maintenance.
Apart from baseline design advice there is also documentation about specification requirements for acoustics, lighting and ventilation in school buildings; guidance on area standards for special schools, alternative provision, specially resourced provision and units and fire safety in new and existing school buildings.
The Director of Capital at the Education Funding Agency (EFA) says: “These designs will ensure that new schools can be built to effective designs and specifications, be simple to maintain and energy efficient. Ultimately they will enable as many schools as possible to receive investment from the funding available and deliver an excellent environment for the children and communities they serve.”
Improving the Learning Environment
There are many ways to improve the learning environment. Some of the key ways this can be achieved are to make sure any new school refurbishment looks at lighting, acoustics, ventilation, thermal comfort and colour. We touch upon some of these factors below:
The EFA has specified that lighting in schools should be carried out using climate based daylight design.
The Daylight Design guide (PDF) explains how to carry out the modelling, including using annual weather data to meet the requirements of the EFA contractors framework facilities output specification. It emphasises the importance of good quality daylight within the learning environment. “The aim of the daylight design should be to ensure sufficient levels of balanced glare-free light to all teaching spaces.”
Making sure there is “sufficient levels” of light is vital in classroom design as light (especially natural) is known to benefit health. It also aids concentration and has been shown to improve test scores.
Building Bulletin 93: Acoustic Design of Schools – Performance Standards gives performance targets for compliance with Requirement E4 of the Building Regulations on School Acoustics and states that:
“Each room or other space in a school building shall be designed and constructed in such a way that it has the acoustic conditions and the insulation against disturbance by noise appropriate to its intended use.”
“The acoustic conditions and sound insulation of each room or other space must be suitable, having regard to the nature of the activities which normally take place therein.”
As we’ve mentioned in a number of articles about office design, colour can play a very important role in communication and learning.
Much like office design, the choice of the “right” colours in school refurbishment is key. Schools should use a balance of bright and muted colours to set the tone and the mood. Where a combination of colours are used, they should complement each other. However it’s equally important to make sure colour is not over-used to the point that it becomes distracting and leads to over-stimulation of learners.
Improving Focus and Attention
Ensuring school spaces are designed to minimise distractions and improve focus and attention can only be good for the learning environment.
In a previous article “Is This The Demise of Open Plan Teaching?” we looked at how some schools are moving away from open plan design, which can cause acoustic reverberations, back to more traditional enclosed classrooms in order to reduce noise levels which can have a negative effect on pupil learning and behaviour.
JBH Refurbishments explain:
“Ultimately, to maximise the sound absorption in schools, these open plan spaces should be divided to create traditional individual classrooms. To address the reverberation issues we partition sections of open plan spaces with specialist acoustic walls that absorb up to 48 RdB. When coupled with acoustic sound panels, the sound absorption in a classroom can be enhanced even further – to 51RdB. The sound panels would dramatically reduce reverberation to provide a clear and crisp sound. In some areas, we were asked to install glazed partitioning to maintain the impression of an open plan space. In this situation we still need use materials with acoustic properties. This is achieved by installing 12mm thick glass that can absorb the sound level by 38 RdB.”
The right environment for learning will also translate into improved academic performance and results.
A study called “Clever Classrooms” (PDF) by The University of Salford in Manchester carried out detailed surveys of 153 classrooms from 27 very diverse schools and found “clear evidence of the effect on users of the overall design of the physical learning space”.
The report went onto say that “well-designed primary schools boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths” and “it is estimated that the impact of moving an ‘average’ child from the least effective to the most effective space would be around 1.3 sub-levels, a big impact when pupils typically make 2 sub-levels progress a year.”
Improving Ways of Learning through Technology
In today’s world where technology skills are essential to be successful in the 21st-century it’s vital that any school refurbishment incorporates digital learning tools in the classroom. From smart boards to computers and tablets, technology prepares learners for the future.
Technology also allows students to learn at their own pace, and provides them with access to a wide range of information. By integrating technology into the curriculum, teachers can also provide students with a conduit which effectively links the classroom and home and enables learners to interact with the curriculum even when they are at home.
Attracting and Retaining Staff
Just like office design, a well designed school can play a role in attracting and keeping the best staff and teachers.
Given how important good teachers are to maintaining high learning standards and the expense of having to recruit new teachers clearly ensuring your school refurbishment is to the highest standards should be high on your list of priorities.
How We Can Help
The summer is fast approaching. It’s an ideal time to look at whether your school or college needs refurbishing. With the advice above and school refurbishment experience JBH Refurbishments brings you can be sure that your school is in good hands. You can view some of our school refurbishment projects on our website in the case studies section. Contact JBH Refurbishments on 0333 207 0339 or via our contact form for more information or to discuss your school refurbishment requirements.