Design Matters? The Effects of New Schools on Students Teachers and Parents Actions and Perceptions

  • Daniels, H R J (PI)
  • Stables, A W G (CoI)

Project: Research council

Project Details


The project will investigate the effects of newly designed schools on their users, particularly students and teachers. This addresses an important policy issue but also has implications for architectural practice, educational theory and methodology. The research is of particular and immediate policy importance. During the 2000s, the UK government invested heavily in the Building Schools for the Future and Academy programmes, commissioning a number of architect-designed new schools at relatively high cost. Since 2010 the policy rhtetoric has shifted to the need for more standardised designs at much lower cost. Needless to say, large amounts of public money are at stake, and the findings are of international as well as national interest. The research base for making such judgments is remarkably thin, on three fronts. First, there is insufficient clarity about how educational theory should underpin decisions in this area, in terms of informing both commissioners of new schools and the architects who will design them. Secondly, the empirical research base is very limited, regarding the importance of the visuo-spatial (place and space) in learning and teaching, and in the general creation of a suitable educational environment, and also regarding the effectiveness of newly designed schools. Current post-occupancy evaluations tend to be tightly focused on specific environmental issues such as energy use. Thirdly, the literature on research methods to tackle issues such as this is still relatively limited. While there is sufficient for us to undertake the project with confidence, we will undoubtedly be able to offer new insights for future researchers in what remains an underresearched field. The research team brings together leading academic researchers in education (recognised for contributions to both theory and methodology, and with considerable experience of empirical work in schools) with leading architects in the field of school design, supported by representatives from their principal professional bodies. We shall use a variety of methods, both 'first person' (including interviews and written accounts) and 'third person' (including observations and documentary and data analysis) in order to arrive at by far the most comprehensive account yet of the differences (should there be any) that newly designed schools, of a variety of types, make to children's educational experience, to teachers, and to other users of the schools. This will inform the policy debate as well as making contributions to theory, which in education is limited on the issue of how school spaces are appropriated as learning and social spaces, and in architecture is limited in terms of designing for specifically educational outcomes. We have agreement from five schools built since 2007 under the Building Schools for the Future and Academy programmes. They represent different designs by FeildenCleggBradley, who are acknowledged as one of the leading firms in the field of school design. We will follow children from their feeder primary schools (some of which are also new-build) into the newly designed secondaries, alongside children from those primary schools who move to older secondary schools as a control. Thus we will be able to follow children from new primary to new secondary, old primary to new secondary, new primary to old secondary, and old primary to old secondary, though the majority will be studied in the newly built schools. The sample will comprise about 300 children in total. The project is supported by RIBA and BCSE. The project will run for 36 months, in five phases, as detailed in the Case for Support. Its progress will be informed by a steering group involving professional architects and those involved in school building policy as well as the project team. The outcomes will be disseminated widely, through academic and professional channels, in order to maxmise impact for academics, architects, policy makers and users
Effective start/end date1/11/1231/08/13


  • AHRC


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