Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Education


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

Planned Impact

The very nature of this research will allow for multiple and far ranging non-academic impacts. The research focus on the various stakeholders across different sites provides an excellent opportunity to add real value. Even at this early stage we can identify a number of different beneficiaries, but we also recognise that a core part of the project will be to find those groups who are currently 'hidden' beneficiaries and give them the opportunity to learn from and be influenced by the research project. The various methods of engagement are described fully in the 'Pathways to Impact' document.


SCHOOL FOCUSED COMMUNITY: School children (past, current and future); parents/carers; teachers; Head Teachers; school support staff; school Governors; local community; Local Education Authority.

The research will allow for a greater understanding of how the immediate school environment affects the purpose and aims and school - especially learning and raising aspirations. The study will provide evidence for these groups as to the suitability of the school for the stated purpose and 'value for money' in this respect. Beyond the sample schools, the study will provide evidence of the importance of design in the learning environment.

GOVERNMENT AUDIENCES: Department for Education; Office for Standards in Education; Training and Development Agency for Schools; The Treasury; Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; Department for Communities and Local Government; Department of Energy and Climate Change - plus the equivalents outside of the relevant jurisdiction.

This research will aim to fill the gaps in knowledge about the links between the immediate environment and the process of education and learning. It will take the debate further than ever before and allow for a more complete discussion about the place of design in public spaces.

BUSINESS USERS: Architectural firms working for both private and public clients, not limited to the design of educational buildings.

Architects (whether working on private or public commissions) will be benefit from the relatively rare feedback based on post-occupancy. This 'next stage' in user led design will help when thinking about the design and functioning of buildings in the future, making the user even more central than ever.

PROFESSIONAL ORGANISATIONS AND RELEVANT CHARITIES: Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA); Open-City; British Council for School Environments (BCSE); Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE) at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); The Sorrell Foundation.

Professional organisations will allow for the wider dissemination of the research findings and will benefit from being able to keep their members informed of the latest information available. It will also help inform debate amongst the members of these organisations in order to further develop understanding of the issues.

POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS: Architecture; Design; Education.

Postgraduates (both at Bath and beyond) will be able to benefit from the new research and help to ensure that their work is both cutting edge and relevant to the world outside of academia.


This includes those members of the public who have an interest in design and those with an interest in the educational attainment of children and young people. Making the information available to the general public will enable a wider discussion about the place of design in the public world and considerations of value for money (both financial value and non-financial value).


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/J011924/1 01/11/2012 31/01/2013 £423,434
AH/J011924/2 Transfer AH/J011924/1 01/02/2013 30/04/2016 £389,571
Description see oxford submission AH/J011924/2
Exploitation Route see oxford submission AH/J011924/2
Sectors Education

Description see oxford submission AH/J011924/2
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy