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Better buildings make pupils feel better about themselves

Build better schools and get better pupils. That was the message for the Government from research which highlights the urgency of improving the school estate.

According to studies from academics at the University of the West of Scotland, interim findings show that new and refurbished school buildings improve secondary pupils' behaviour and self-esteem.

The first study surveyed 840 pupils in first and fourth year at three Glasgow schools which had been through "major building work". These included one refurbished school, one refurbished school with an extension, and one new-build. Pupils in all three reported an improvement in how they felt about themselves. New schools had the biggest impact, while those which had been refurbished without an extension had the least.

Researchers Sharon McEwen, Edward Edgerton and Jim McKechnie conceded, however, that pupils' lesser enthusiasm for refurbished schools may have been influenced by having building work going on around them: "Students at the new-build school experienced a complete change in their school environment, and hence their school may have appeared more impressive."

Pupils in the new-build also came from a more deprived part of Glasgow, which may have made them more positive.

A second study, which researchers believe is based on improved metho- dology, has involved tracking students' views as improvements took place, rather than afterwards.

The full study will use a sample of over 3,000 pupils in one authority aiming to rebuild seven schools. In an initial survey of 366 pupils (in S1, S3 and S5) at two schools where changes had not yet taken place, none of the different areas of the buildings was judged "very good".

Indoor sports facilities fared best, while toilets rated worst. Categories which were consistently rated "average" included standard and non-standard classrooms, outdoor sports facilities, dining areas and places to meet friends inside school.

The study suggested links between such perceptions and "academic self- esteem". There was a particularly marked effect on first years, but the importance of the physical school environment lessens as pupils get older.

It may be that first years consider the state of their surroundings more important than other year groups, or the impact on younger pupils may be explained by the change in physical environment from primary to secondary.

Sharon McEwen, a PhD student, presented her findings at the European Affective Education Network's conference on creativity and emotional well- being in Ayr this month.

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