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IBI research proves design makes a difference for students

Researchers at the University of Salford and architectural partners IBI Group have found well-designed primary schools boost children’s academic performance.


March 2, 2015

LONDON – Well-designed primary schools boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing, and math, researchers at the University of Salford and architectural partners IBI Group have found. Differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explained 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year for the 3,766 pupils in the study.

Leading the HEAD (Holistic Evidence and Design) project, Professor Peter Barrett and his team in Salford’s School of the Built Environment have 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.

This is the first time that clear evidence of the effect on users of the overall design of the physical learning space has been isolated in real life situations. Specific aspects have been studied in the past, such as air quality, but how it all comes together for real people in real spaces has proved to be a knotty problem. Indeed, owing to a lack of evidence, the Education Endowment Foundation state that: “changes to the physical environment of schools are unlikely to have a direct effect on learning beyond the extremes.”

“We are delighted with the results of the study, which has shown conclusively that a well designed classroom can play a major role in children’s progress,” said Adrian Swain, IBI Group Studio Director. “Importantly as schools continue to struggle with a lack of funding, improvements to learning environments can be made at little or no additional cost to either new or existing schools.”

The HEAD research team has worked for the last three years, carrying out detailed surveys of 153 classrooms from 27 very diverse schools and collecting performance statistics for the pupils studying in those spaces. The success of the study comes from taking into account a wide range of sensory factors and using multilevel statistical modelling to isolate the effects of classroom design from the influences of other factors, such as the pupils themselves and their teachers.

Katie Endicott
01273 560920
Twitter: @IBIGroup

HEAD Study contact:
Adrian Swain

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