There is now robust evidence that the physical design of the learning space has a significant impact on pupils’ performance. This has consequences on classroom design but also on classroom furniture, which play an important role in children’s learning process.
Professor Peter Barrett, Emeritus Professor at the University of Salford and Honorary Research Fellow at Oxford University, is a leading expert on the topic. In his latest research, entitled Holistic Evidence And Design (HEAD), he found that differences in physical classroom design parameters account for 16% of the variation in the learning progress of the children in those spaces over a year.
At GESS Dubai, earlier this year, Professor Barrett was invited by award-winning storage company Gratnells to be their keynote speaker and talk about the findings of his HEAD report. He explained that, focusing “on the viewpoint of the pupil in the classroom” to guide the data collection and analysis, he has developed a special SIN model, which stands for: Naturalness, Stimulation and Individualisation.
For Gratnells, it is crucial to take into account these findings in the design of its storage items to give children the best outcomes. Murray Hudson, Managing Director, told me: “We have concentrated on the ‘individualisation’ part of the research where we give children ownership of a tray via a name, colour or picture. We also give recommendations on using trays to bring colour to a classroom or indeed take colour away from a classroom. With regard to storage itself, it is important that is mobile and close to where the items are needed.”
All members of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) are equally committed to offering the best educational resources, as they adhere to a strict Code of Practice when they apply to join the trade association. Our furniture members such as Certwood, Community Playthings, Demco Interiors, EMIR, Havelock, SICO, and Twoey, all keep up to date with the latest research in how space design can enhance children’s academic outcomes, to feed into their latest furniture design.
For example, John Gillespie, Havelock’s Design Director, told me that when they were designing a space for young children, Havelock “manufactured prototypes and invited the most important people, school children, to test them out.” In doing so, Havelock recognised that: “One of the important elements of the early years curriculum is creative play and this featured heavily in our thought process,” John said.
High-quality furniture adapted to children has always been at the top of British suppliers’ agenda. Around 10 years ago, BESA led the march on furniture standards campaigning on behalf of its members for new British standards for classroom furniture. This was borne out of the expert knowledge of BESA members supplying furniture that UK children’s sizes were not the same as they were decades before when the previous standards had been adopted.
As a result, in 2006 a new European Standard EN1729 for chairs and tables for educational institutions was adopted, specifying the dimensions which promote good posture.
Just like the colours on the wall or the amount of natural light in the room, adaptive furniture is critical to fostering concentration, and consequently improve children’s educational outcomes. Moreover, recognising that children’s learning can be enhanced when performed as a group, furniture needs to support collaborative learning while giving the possibility to work independently too.
With a track record of designing libraries, Demco Interiors is mindful of creating furniture and spaces that give students this flexibility. Michaela Lancaster, Head of Design & Products at Demco Interiors, said: “Colours, lighting, furnishings can invisibly direct students to what they need to find and where they want to be.”
Likewise, furniture needs to support active learning, which we now know is necessary to children’s progress – as has Professor Barrett’s research-proven, too. The feeling of ownership can be key to enabling children to understand a difficult concept.
Richard Picking, International Marketing Director at Gratnells, said: “Wide and easy access to resources creates the opportunity for self-directed learning and exploration and research, which develops independent learners and practical experience, which are strong life-long skills.”
Michaela, from Demco Interiors, agreed: “Intuitive designs are not formal, they hand ownership of the space to the user. We often use the expression together: alone – an intuitive design will combine individual study with group activities but without boundaries or restrictions. Intuitively designed spaces are relaxing and pleasant to be in, which in turn makes them motivating and inspiring.”
By taking these elements seriously into account, school leaders and educationalists in the Middle East can choose classroom spaces to inspire and encourage their pupils and students.