Clearing the way to calmer learning

Many authorities are cutting school clutter after a study reported too many bright displays could hinder pupils' progress

a drive to make classrooms less cluttered has spread to primary and nursery schools across England after teachers were warned that bright displays could distract pupils.

The Basic Skills Agency published a report last year suggesting that a riot of colours on classroom walls could impede children's progress.

The findings of the study, Communication Friendly Spaces, were criticised by some headteachers, who said they were keen to retain vibrant displays.

But, six months later, many local authorities have brought in changes in response to the report.

Elizabeth Jarman, the study's author, is working with Barnet, Bournemouth, Stockport, Tameside (Manchester), Blackpool and Plymouth authorities, and some individual schools that have taken up her challenge to declutter.

Ms Jarman said: "When I go into schools, the clutter is unbelievable. It's everywhere.

"From a child's perspective, many schools are chaotic environments. There is stuff in corridors, dumped on and under tables. People know it, if they're honest.

"But this isn't just about a tidy-up. There is a rationale as to why a more ordered environment helps children to concentrate and focus on speaking and listening.

"People fall into the trap of thinking children need a lot of things to stimulate them all the time. But for children to become independent learners they have to have access to ordered resources which they can get themselves and put away themselves."

In Plymouth, the council has given seven children's centre managers a training day with Mrs Jarman and pound;100 each to create "calm spaces"

where children can be helped to improve their speaking and listening skills.

Susanne James, an early years advisory teacher for Plymouth, said: "I went to hear Elizabeth speak and it just seemed to make sense. Children need a relaxing atmosphere which feels more like a home environment."

Elizabeth Knight, the manager of Lark children's centre in Plymouth, has taken up the challenge. The centre already has an ethos of using natural materials, such as wood. Ms Knight is now keen to create areas where children can concentrate on quiet activities.

"We have a fairly open-plan setting and we like the idea of creating spaces where children could have a bit more privacy and have conversations with friends in peace and quiet," she said. "We are going to get the children to take some photos of the local area. We will link their ideas with our own to create places such as a cosy corner."

The idea of helping young children to learn by creating calm spaces that are less like the traditional busy schoolroom fits in with the new Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum.

One of the four principles of the curriculum, due to become statutory in September 2008, is "enabling environments", the idea that a rich and varied space can help children to learn. The guidance says nursery rooms should be reassuring and comforting and enable children to feel "at home" as well as to learn.


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