Physical Changes

The BSF (Building Schools for the Future) project in the UK conducted research on the impact of learning spaces and concluded that the quality of spaces played a significant role in terms of improved aspiration and outcomes. Provides research summaries for the direct connection between the learning environment and outcomes.

Often the nature of the school timetable cause multiple spaces that are all the same.  Corridors of boxes fail to inspire many of the participants.  Often the school is aware of the negative impact of such constraints but does not have the funds to put this right.  The following list ranges from low to high budget.  It is an attemot to provide ideas regardless of the available budget.

Limited budgets – Site allows you to set out your classroom layout and try different configurations.  The layout of furnature within spaces can impact.  Experiment with horseshoe layouts, group tables and pods. – describes some different classroom layouts and how you can use them.

Display of student work with frequent refreshing can create a sense of ownership.  The best example of this I saw in Selly park school back in 2003 in which the policy of ALL work displayed meant every square cm of wall space was dripping with inspiring and recent work.

Enough budget to remove a wall!

Working as a whole school can allow funding to be concentrated in one area then focus on different areas each year.  Before such funding is committed, the way in which the school intends to use the space must be debated and considered.  The impact on the whole school is also critical.

In Oak Hill School, Boston, two teachers Jon and Ben, decided to apply for funding to remove the wall between their classrooms and team teach.  Ten years later on and the partnership continues to go from strength to strength.  In many other settings, teachers have reported that once they have made the permanent move to team teaching they are not prepared to go back.  New Line Learning in Kent now has half of its teaching spaces as ‘Plazas’ which require such team teaching.  Monkseaton High school UK, has combined groups of four classrooms as has Silverton Primary in Victoria Australia.

In typical secondary schools, however, removing a wall makes timetabling more difficult as some teachers are not trained to work in shared environments and not all lessons have been designed to make full use of these facilities.  In fact I was in a school recently where they will building walls back in!  So in heavily timetabled secondary schools such moves need to be part of a wider plan across the school.  Is this a first experimental space from which more will follow (this is how Monkseaton did it).  If it is then the room needs to be a central resource that teachers can try out rather than being the rooms of two teachers.  Is it part of a department in which there is a commitment to sharing rooms depending on the kind of activity you are doing (this is how Pudsey Grangefield did it).  Or is it that all teachers will be teaching in combined rooms eventually and so it is known that the ones who go first are likely to get more favourable concessions in return for taking the leap (how Princes Hill did it).

Ideas for space use

  1. Student led services – offices, shop, performance, passive supervision
  2. David Thornburg in his Primordial metaphors for learning in the 21st Century  (Campfire = place to learn from an expert,  Watering hole = place to learn from peers, Cave Space = place to learn from yourself.)

Strategies for change

  1. Let the curriculum drive the spaces not the other way around.  Either begin with a department or subject area OR team of teachers OR problem based learning approach that can be timetabled at a similar time.
  2. Timetable simplicity – divide subject blocks into the same number of groups and lessons so that there is more flexibility.  For example Maths and Foreign Languages are done by all year eight and the combined number of lessons is usually the same as Science so create one grouping that pairs these so you have a symetric block.
  3. Make longer lesson periods and use a two week or four week timetable cycle
  4. Do intensive lesson blocks rather than weekly lessons


Chris Bradbeer keeping a blog about his PhD into the connection between learning spaces and pedagogy –

Stephen Heppells rule of 3  (no more than 3 walls, no less than 3 places from which to present, space accommodates no less than 3 classes of 30) Models of collaborative teaching – defining the roles each teacher takes in successful models.  Argues that collaborative teaching fails when one of these models is not used and there are not clear lines of responsibility and role.

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