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Parents Missing Opportunity to Improve Learning through Design

The results of the latest BCSE teachers’ survey confirm first-hand perceptions of education and design professionals across the UK: school environments have a significant impact on pupil behaviour. However, the benefits of good learning environments are not recognised by most parents.  The reason for this missed opportunity is simple: parents aren’t aware of the learning benefits design offers.

In September 2009, a YouGov survey commissioned by Gensler revealed that only 6% of parents of children aged 4 to 17 rank the quality of school facilities in their top three criteria for school selection. The findings indicate that despite improved academic results through initiatives such as the Academies and the now defunct Building Schools for the Future Programme, parents are still unaware that the built environment can play a key role in transforming the learning experience. This is particularly true of schools in deprived areas where lack of student engagement as well as social and behavioural issues can be reinforced by traditional school design.

Working with the New Line Learning Academy in Kent, we introduced a ground-breaking learning environment that proves design can positively affect learning. The prototype Plaza scheme was developed to support the Academy’s individual learning pathways through an environment that encourages a higher degree of collaboration between teachers and pupils and enables a variety of learning settings to occur simultaneously.  Eighteen months after opening, the results from the Plaza prototype are impressive - exclusion rates have plummeted, with Year 8 pupils dropping from 34 in the first term of 2008 to just 2 for the same period in 2009, and overall attendance levels have increased from 50% to 90%.  Following its successful trial, the prototype is being incorporated within the permanent New Line Learning Academy currently being built and due for completion later this year.

Whilst there is plenty of evidence correlating quality workplaces with better employee performance, productivity and creativity, there is still reluctance in accepting that the same would apply to learning environments. As Ty Goddard, Director of BSCE, points out “investment in school buildings is an investment in teachers and children, not a wasted luxury." Despite the financial constraints imposed by the new Government, we believe innovation in school environments can still be achieved. We hope to continue working with government, teachers, students and parents alike to deliver environments which help enhance the learning experience, facilitate integration and minimise anti-social behaviour.

Philip Gillard is a Principal in Gensler’s London office and a leader of the firm’s Education practice. Philip has lectured in the US, UK and Middle East, most recently speaking on the “Sustainability of Learning” as the keynote speaker at the US Green Building Council’s Learning Summit. He is a visiting tutor at the London Metropolitan University and acts as a mentor to design students at the University of Hawaii. Contact him at philip_gillard@gensler.com

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