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Learning environments to inspire teachers

Melanie Laing asks, could classroom design help relieve the current attraction and retention crisis facing teaching?

Posted by Stephanie Broad | February 22, 2016 | Facilities & buildings

One in five secondary teacher training places for September 2015 went unfilled. A shock YouGov poll of October 2015 revealed that more than half of teachers are considering leaving the profession in the next two years. The signals are there and they can’t be ignored – UK schools are facing a crisis in both attraction and retention.

But if the general evidence is alarming, when it comes to government prioritised STEM subjects, the situation is much worse. Design and technology attracted just 41% of required teacher trainees for September 2015 with neither Science (85%) or Maths (93%) hitting quota

While there are many factors that influence people when it comes to training for and indeed remaining in a teaching career – environment is seldom mooted as a factor.

But why is this? In all other workplaces and professions, the physical environment is considered to be a primary component of attracting and retaining high-calibre staff. 

A study released by the British Council for Offices and the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment revealed that the workplace can account for around 24% of an employee’s overall job satisfaction

In line with this, quality companies go to great lengths planning and updating their environments in the name of staff satisfaction and recruitment incentivisation.   

On the flipside, there are a large number of school buildings and classrooms in the UK in need of significant modernisation. To cope with this, some schools have taken such drastic measures as converting corridors and cupboards into classrooms. One school in Northumberland has even gone so far as to install sheds to maximise space. Add to this the significant number of temporary classrooms in use and you begin to appreciate the worrying scale of the problem.

While education is subject to extreme budgetary pressures and constraints, the scientific argument for modern, well-planned school environments is compelling.

In a 2015 study by Salford University, well-designed primary schools were proven to boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths.

The report further estimated that the impact of moving an ‘average’ child from the least effective to the most effective space would be around 1.3 sub-levels. When you consider that pupils typically make two sub-levels progress a year – this is a huge boost to learning progress.

As well as being fantastic news for these lucky children, new, carefully-planned educational facilities and classrooms are also designed to help teachers. 

With policy makers well aware of the critical shortages of staff in education, kick-starting discussion about how to improve the working environment of teachers is essential.

Improving learning environments is not a fix-all solution for the problems facing the education sector. However by creating intelligent seating plans and additional circulation space, it becomes easier for teachers to manage their classes. And by using cutting-edge technology, teachers can both increase interactivity and broaden the scope of lesson plans.

As well as engaging pupils, this inspires teachers and makes their working day more varied and interactive, meaning newer facilities are likely to significantly boost teacher’s morale, ability to teach and job satisfaction.  

If the sector manages to improve the picture for teachers – the view will also improve for pupils making this one of the key challenges currently facing education.  

Melanie Laing is director at Innova Design Solutions 

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