Company News

21 June 2016

Why is classroom design so important?

Jonathan Clark, Product Design Director at British Thornton

(This article first appeared in the June edition of Tomorrow’s FM Magazine http://www.tomorrowsfm.com)

Jonathan Clark 210616In the grand scheme of planning how best to deliver children’s education, and how to make them most engaged with learning, the design of a classroom may not always be perceived as an important consideration.

However, there’s more to classroom design than many would imagine. Several studies have shown the learning environment has a big impact on students. Research from the University of Salford found that “well-designed primary schools boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths”. The research goes on to state “the impact of moving an ‘average’ child from the least effective to the most effective space would be around 1.3 sub-levels [in terms of academic progress], a big impact when pupils typically make 2 sub-levels progress a year”.

But, how important is the classroom itself? Logic might dictate that the entire school environment contributes equally to a child’s happiness and performance, yet this has been shown to not be the case. The Salford research uncovered that “whole-school factors (e.g. size and navigation routes) do not seem to be anywhere near as important as the design of individual classrooms. This point is reinforced by clear evidence that it is quite typical to have a mix of more and less effective classrooms in the same school. The message is that, first and foremost, each classroom has to be well designed.”

Clearly, the design of the classroom itself has a huge impact on how pupils learn. So how can schools ensure their spaces are laid out to be as effective as possible?

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Furniture, fixtures and fittings are hugely important. When undertaking large projects, such as developing a new school, many people unfortunately seem to see furniture as something of an afterthought. However, there’s more to making these choices than initially meets the eye. The use of colour and design in furniture can make the learning environment a more desirable place to be, stimulating learning and inspiring creativity, while the utilisation of loose furniture can improve efficiency when teaching multiple subjects, due to its mobility and flexibility.

A key question to ask is: what will the classroom be used for? This may seem obvious, but with a multitude of options available and factors to consider it’s crucial to give this real thought. For instance, who is going to be using the room? The suitability of furniture for a four year-old and an eleven year-old pupil rarely overlap, while Year Seven and Year Thirteen pupils will likely require different environments in order to flourish. Clearly defining the room’s main users should be top of the list. Similarly, it’s important to consider whether the room will be mixed use. Usually, primary schools benefit from keeping one age group in one classroom for the majority of the time, so can invest in more specialised furniture. However, secondary schools invariably see their students move between rooms for each lesson, necessitating a furniture solution which is more versatile, and therefore more suited for mixed use.

Beyond this, the choices to deliberate over become more nuanced, and depend much more on the unique situation of the classroom. The Salford research contains some recommendations around how best to structure the room to get the best out of students. Factors such as the use of colour, the complexity of the floor plan, the flexibility of the learning space and the overall lightness of the room are singled out as being particularly important.

While the room’s furniture solution cannot ensure all of the above is satisfied, it is one of the major components in doing so. British Thornton offers a comprehensive range of furniture, fittings and fixtures for classrooms of all types and sizes.

For instance, its Trudy range is designed squarely with primary school children in mind and is the country’s first fully integrated loose and fixed furniture range, meaning classrooms can take on a consistent style without compromising on choice of product. The first range to market with a contemporary colour palette, Trudy furniture is designed to utilise all available space and surfaces for use as storage. In addition, units feature soft curved lines and no sharp edges, reducing the likelihood of accidents in primary classrooms.

Schools face a myriad of challenges in trying to deliver a top quality education, with much of this centring on policy and funding that is often taken out of their hands. However, with focused planning ahead of making classroom design decisions, schools can easily maximise the space they have available to create the best environment for their students, and help them to achieve their potential.