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Clever Classrooms

As part of the Clever Classrooms study, he and his team examined the impact of classroom spatial design criteria on pupil performance. The performance statistics of 3766 pupils in 153 classrooms at 27 British schools were evaluated. The study demonstrates the impact of the teaching space and provides a checklist for creating better learning conditions. For the evaluation, only the sensory and physical stimuli were taken into account, and isolated from the respective learning levels of pupils or the teacher's educational achievement. The learning measures at primary schools provided the ideal framework for this.

The investigated spatial and environmental factors and the associated recommendations for action resulted from the so-called SIN design criteria (stimulation, individualisation and naturalness), which the team had developed. The study showed that daylight, room temperature and air quality are the strongest factors, followed by rooms that can be used flexibly and stimulation through the colour and complexity of the room. According to the study, the school grounds, the school building as a whole with its access, recreation and play areas and special rooms are not nearly as relevant to primary pupil performance as the respective classroom. “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 each classroom has to be well designed”, says Peter Barrett.

The research report briefly explains the results of the evaluation for each of the individual factors. This is followed by positive and negative examples as well as planning hints. Also interesting are the recommendations concerning the spatial flexibility of the classrooms and their appropriateness for the children. Thus, the scientists found that the optimal floor plan of a classroom depends on the respective age group. Rooms with lively floor plans, zoning and different floor coverings are therefore better suited for small children, while older pupils learn better in larger and square rooms. For all school pupils it seems to be enormously important to be able to individualise and personalise the classroom. In combination with colour and complexity, the study concludes that there is a fine line between over- and under-stimulation, which in turn determines whether the learning environment encourages or disturbs pupils.
Many of the study's findings are not new to architects who plan schools. The report, however, is scientific confirmation of the architectural knowledge concerning interior design. Because “despite a lot of design knowledge about schools, there is nothing that links the integrated features of school design directly with the impact on pupils' performance. Filling this gap should have a transformative impact as it will enable researchers and designers to contextualise and calibrate the specific elements being considered within an holistic impacts model”, says Peter Barrett.

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