Is it time to reconfigure the classroom?

Relocation and storage specialists Harrow Green reflect on the process of managing a major reconfiguration of learning spaces

Over the past two years, students have spent more time at home than at school or university with many taking GCSEs and A Levels during this time.

Every time we think we are close to returning to normal, a new Covid strain is identified and threatens to put us back into stricter measures and schools having to navigate with much fewer staff due to the infection rates and isolation rules.

I guess it’s naïve to expect everything to return to as it was pre-pandemic but how do schools and universities negotiate the road ahead?

Teachers have had to deal with little or no notice about school closures, switching to online learning with some children not having the equipment at home to work online, to mask or not to mask, lateral flow testing and an increase in student wellbeing issues, all whilst trying to deliver as normal an education as possible. This has put an incredible amount of pressure on everyone in the sector whilst trying to navigate the pandemic personally.

Distance learning was brought into the spotlight due to Covid-19 and whilst it can offer benefits, the drawbacks far outweigh the positives as a new survey from the NHS highlighting that one in six children in the UK had a mental health disorder in 2021.

Figures released by NHS Digital also show there has been a significant deterioration in mental health for children and young people in the past four years.

The survey of more than 3,600 young people found 17 per cent of children aged six to 16 in England had a probable mental health disorder, with the same rate for teenagers aged 17 to 19.

The results are similar to 2020 but show a considerable increase in child mental health problems in the past five years, with numbers rising from one in nine in 2017.

Among young people now aged 17 to 23, 53% experienced a decline in mental health since 2017.

During the height of the pandemic with all learning being done at home, students would be working sat on the floor, propped up in bed, on the sofa and on a sunny day, with good Wi-Fi, in the garden, and whilst some of this wasn’t ideal, they adapted to their new learning environments.

So, is now the time to ditch the ‘traditional’, tables-and-chairs-style classroom and adapt a more forward-thinking collaborative classroom of the future?

Can small break-out areas be included? Can comfy seating replace the hard chairs and tables? Just as offices are having to reconfigure as we move through the pandemic, allowing for more collaborative areas and incorporating ongoing social distancing, could schools, colleges and universities also take this chance to make the learning environment different?

If the classroom feels cosy, safe and welcoming this will go a long way in supporting student’s wellbeing and mental health at a time when it’s most needed. It also creates an environment that is better suited to learning, allowing young people to choose where they want to work.

Just because classrooms have been configured in the same way for hundreds of years, it doesn’t mean they have to continue to be set out like this.

As part of the next step in the government’s plans to boost education recovery, a total of £1.4 billion is being invested, including £1 billion to support up to 6 million, 15-hour tutoring courses for disadvantaged school children, as well as an expansion of the 16-19 tuition fund, targeting key subjects such as maths and English.

£400 million will help give early years practitioners and 500,000 schoolteachers across the country training and support, and schools and colleges will be funded to give some year 13 students the option to repeat their final year.

It builds on the £1.7 billion already announced to help children catch up on what they missed during the pandemic, which includes summer schools and £79 million in mental health support, bringing total investment to over £3 billion.

But there is a long road to travel for the sector with ever increasing pressure, let’s hope teachers, students, schools and universities get the support they desperately need to come through this unprecedented time.

Are you looking to reconfigure your university, school or classroom, or are you moving to a new building? The expert team at Harrow Green provide a range of services to help you through all relocation and reconfiguration projects.

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