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Are Your School Facilities Harming Student Outcomes?

Posted on Sep 28, 2016, by Mike Patrick

Research has repeatedly shown that classroom design has a significant impact on student performance – but what about the rest of your school facilities? Today I’m looking at how your school’s entire campus affects student outcomes.

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The Impact of Poor School Facilities

A 1991 study by Maureen Edwards examined different variables that could impact student achievement. She found a direct link between the condition of the school building and student outcomes: “improvement in the condition of the building is associated with improvement in achievement scores”.

These findings are reaffirmed by many subsequent studies (such as this study by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities), and the message is clear: clean, quiet and comfortable environments are vital for successful teaching and learning.

So how can you be sure your school’s facilities are helping your students, rather than harming their learning outcomes?

A Variety of Learning Environments

“It’s important to recognize that learning can, and does, happen anywhere. And it involves informal collaboration and socializing, as well as formal learning in a classroom.”Aileen Strickland, Steelcase education researcher.

The best school facilities provide students with a variety of learning environments: traditional classrooms for formal learning; workshops or subject-specific classrooms for practical learning (like the gym or computer rooms); the library for quiet, individual study time; and social spaces like the cafeteria for socializing and personal development.

While each different type of environment will have its own unique set of requirements, there are some needs that are consistent. Getting the basics right across campus has the potential to hugely boost student outcomes, providing them with an environment that facilitates learning and engagement.

1) Lighting

Studies have repeatedly shown that students exposed to more natural light in the classroom are more engaged with their learning compared with their peers who have less exposure to natural light.

Lighting levels are particularly important in learning environments – and this applies across campus, not just in the classroom. Harnessing the benefits of increased levels of natural light could be as simple as remembering to open the blinds on a cloudy day, or as complex as installing daylighting systems to bring daylight into all areas of your school – not just spaces with external windows.

2) Acoustics

Noise levels have been identified by teachers as one of the most important environmental features that affects the quality of their teaching. Therefore, it’s vital that you design your school facilities to lower ambient noise levels as much as possible. This could include:

  • Installing acoustical ceiling tiles.
  • Installing sound-control doors.
  • Installing cushion-backed carpet, which absorbs 50% more noise than hard-back carpet, and 4x more noise than hard surface flooring.
  • Using technology to amplify the teacher’s voice so they can be more easily heard over high levels of background noise – though this doesn’t solve the problem of high noise levels, it just attempts to work around it.

3) Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality can have a significant impact on student wellness. Poor indoor air quality can lead to a range of health problems: allergies, nose and throat infections, headaches; as well as increasing fatigue which, although not a health problem, can have a similarly detrimental effect on learning.

To counter poor indoor air quality, the best thing you can do is ensure that your HVAC system is serviced regularly, and that filters are regularly changed to prevent the build-up of contaminants that could make their way back into the ventilation system.

4) State of the Building

School facilities can be an important source of school pride, which is a significant motivator for student achievement. Therefore, the overall state of your school buildings makes a significant contribution to student achievement levels.

A school with facilities that have fallen into a state of disrepair, with outdated equipment and visible damage (for example broken toilets, smashed windows, leaking roofs) will have higher absence levels and lower student morale compared with a school with well-maintained buildings and facilities.

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Mike Patrick

Written by Mike Patrick