Bringing the wow factor into the classroom environment

John Keegan, deputy headteacher, Upton-by-Chester High School

Bright colours, clever use of space and interactive technology have a positive impact on student learning and help innovative teaching, as John Keegan, deputy headteacher, Upton-by-Chester High School, explains to SSAT’s Matthew Smitheman

SSAT and Dulux partnered to create smarter spaces in a variety of schools in differing contexts. After a competitive application process, the 10 selected schools designed their smarter spaces, working with students and a Dulux design team. John Keegan explained why Upton-by-Chester took part; how they implemented the project; the impact on staff, students, teaching and learning; and some of the ways they have used their new space.

Why create a ‘smarter space’ for staff and students?

‘We expected that the project would change this area, C14, from an underused space into a digital workspace. It would also improve the learning environment which would in turn improve teaching and learning.’

A benchmark survey showed that most staff members felt C14 as it then existed was a poor place to teach and learn. Teachers were reluctant to use the space due to the room’s condition, its layout with an awkwardly sited projector screen and white boards, and the poor state of the equipment and furniture.

How did you carry out the design of the project?

To kick off the project, seven staff and 132 students were surveyed about what they would like in the room and how they would like it to change. ‘The key drivers for the project,’ said John Keegan, ‘were the e-learning facilitators (ELFs), who needed a digital workspace for training and meetings.’ Students who would be using the classroom were then involved.’

Ten ELFs and two members of staff met with the professional designer, Debbie Logan, and they thrashed out ideas about the design of the room. ‘They discussed the surveys and the comments made by staff and students,’ John recalled. ‘The students’ responses included a request that the chairs be blue and green rather than orange.’ Different types of paint were explored, as well as the flooring and furniture. The ELFs led the conversation and made the final decisions on the design of the room.

What was the impact?

Since the start of this academic year, students have been busy using digital technology in a variety of subjects in C14. ‘Teachers have been making the most of the classroom’s design, which gives teachers and students a space to feel inspired, get creative and engage with learning through digital technology,’ John said.

’The classroom has been specifically designed to give teachers and students a space to feel inspired, get creative and engage with learning through digital technology’

The impact of the revitalised learning environment has been notable, with a 2.31% improvement in attendance in the classes taught in C14 since it has been redeveloped – an average of 92.06% compared with an average of 89.75% last year. A survey found most staff feel it is now a great place to teach. Importantly, in addition, year 7 groups who use this room are making greater progress than those groups who do not.

Year 7 groups who use this room are making greater progress than those who do not

Innovative uses of revitalised space

There is a green screen area where students can produce presentations such as the rock cycle in geography. The white wall is used for students to collaborate and generate ideas such as healthy eating in PSHE. An ‘immersive wallpaper’ with a forest scene, as can be seen in the video below, has been used for mindfulness training in LEEP (Learner Effectiveness Enhancement Programme) sessions and creative writing in English. The TV and Apple TV enable students to present work from their iPads using Airplay, and staff to demonstrate skills such as how to use an app.

Staff can use this versatile space instead of their traditional classrooms, John Keegan explains. ‘For instance, the English department have used it to create presentations on Alcatraz with low-ability boys who they found difficult to engage. The round tables are more conducive for collaborative learning. And, because they are on castors, they can easily be moved to make the room suitable for more active learning.’

This carefully considered room design has transformed the space into an inspiring environment for a wide range of learning experiences.

John Keegan sees some potential financial benefits of developing the space too, ‘we are going to use the room to provide iPad training for staff from other schools and charge them for this training. We have used the school learning hub in the past.’

Watch how the students have responded to the exciting new classroom at Upton-by-Chester:

Read more about Smarter Spaces – an SSAT and Dulux project.

Find out more from another Smarter Spaces school participant at the SSAT National Conference 2017. Hannah Morgan from Windrush Primary School is presenting about school design at the Thursday afternoon Spotlight on… session.

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