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Better buildings make for better students

Study from UWS reveals new secondary school buildings improve learning

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 08, 2015 | Research

A new study by University of the West of Scotland (UWS) has revealed modern school building design can dramatically improve pupils’ learning skills and engagement. 

Started in 2006, the study looked at the views and behaviour of secondary school pupils within East Dunbartonshire, with the local authority at the time embarking on a £100 million project to replace seven of its secondary schools with six new campuses. 

Led by Dr Eddie Edgerton, a reader in psychology at UWS, the study tracked the views of students in S1, S3 and S5 as they moved from their old schools into the new buildings. The pupils were asked about their motivation, academic self-esteem and school behaviour, as well as thoughts on their school environment.

The study found pupils were much more positive about their new school environments, making them more motivated to learn, engage with school activities and extracurricular events, and less likely to engage in ‘negative’ behaviours such as skipping classes or getting into trouble. 

Dr Edgerton, who is leading a new Psychology MSc at UWS, said: “Our study compared responses before and after the moves and found the improved perceptions of the school environment made a significant difference to pupils’ feelings about school, in turn leading to a healthier approach to learning. 

“Pupils in the new schools have a greater likelihood of volunteering and adopting more effective learning strategies and even helping classmates with their studies. 

“It appears the improvement in the social spaces, circulation spaces and sports facilities has made the biggest impact, contributing towards higher engagement with school and academic self-esteem. 

“Perhaps surprisingly, the new classrooms seem to be less important – possibly due to the fact the layout of these spaces remains largely the same.” 

Teachers were also surveyed as part of the project, looking at their thoughts and feelings about working in the old and new schools. 

Dr Edgerton said: “We found teachers had higher levels of job satisfaction in the new buildings, are more secure and feel they have more control over their environment. They also feel more positive coming to work, which can only be good for their pupils.” 

He added: “When we initially looked at these figures in 2010, there was still a question over whether this was the ‘new paint’ effect and pupils’ and teachers’ opinions would reverse over time. 

“In fact, what we’ve found is a sustained improvement in perceptions and behaviour to this day, suggesting the school building itself is a major factor on encouraging positive behaviour among pupils – and potentially improving exam results.” 

Dr Edgerton’s team are now analysing grades from the schools to determine if the move has brought about improved pupil performance. It’s anticipated the final results will be published by the end of the year.    

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