Do school buildings affect attainment?

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Natural light and fresh air help children learn, research suggests.

A 1999 US study found that pupils with the most daylight in their classrooms made 20 per cent faster progress in maths and 26 per cent faster progress in reading than those with the least. And a study by the Building Research Establishment found that a class of 30 in an unventilated classroom produced so much carbon dioxide that their attention flagged after five minutes.

Excessive noise is also bad for children's concentration and teachers'

ears. Increases in external noise levels of between 10 and 40 decibels led to a 30 per cent fall in test scores in London primary schools.

A research review produced for the Design Council in 2005 said some physical elements of the school environment - temperature, lighting, air quality and acoustics - impact concentration, mood and attainment. But, once basic standards were met, it was unclear which design features would make a difference.

"Research shows that student achievement lags in shabby school buildings.

But, it does not show that student performance rises when facilities go from the equivalent of a Ford to a Ferrari," said Mark Sticherz, quoted in the report.

Steve Higgins of Durham University, who led the review, said it showed that the detail of school design was less important than how people used it.

"Within broad limits, most (school buildings) are fit for purpose," he said. "Staff and pupils need to consider how to make the best of the building they've got."

Professor Higgins doubts the value of the Government's pound;46 billion Building Schools for the Future programme and says it is unlikely to bring about "any proportional improvement in attainment". He says the benefit of shiny new buildings to the morale of teachers and pupils may be short-lived and that schools would often derive as much benefit from a fresh coat of paint.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Lancaster, stresses the need to involve teachers in any changes to school buildings. "If they feel they have ownership of it, they won't complain," he says. "If they don't, even if it's good they are not going to like it."

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