With reference to the question: Does the primary classroom environment enhance the effective delivery of the National Curriculum? The study clearly indicates that there is a strong relationship between the classroom environment and the teaching and learning strategies associated with the National Curriculum. The explanation of this answer lies in the collection of the research findings relating to four sub-questions, which are associated with the classroom environment, teaching and learning, and physical organization, and the final question concerning the implications of the study.
What are teachers’ perceptions of their classroom environments? The data gathered suggests that teachers both question and recognize problems within their own classrooms and could be considered as experts. Teachers were able to identify problems occurring in the classrooms in which they taught. They have a real need for classrooms that support the teaching and learning strategies of the National Curriculum much more precisely than in previous times. The teachers surveyed were poorly served by the classroom environments in which they work.
The data collected revealed a strong negative response regarding the teacher’s ability to alter the layout of the classrooms; clearly they would like to effect change more readily. Similarly, teacher access to resource/storage areas was relatively poor. Pupil access to resource/storage areas was seen as slightly more satisfactory but was still predominantly rated as poor. This is an important aspect of any successful learning space. It felt that there was a lot of pressure on pupils and teachers and the classroom needed to be a more efficient ‘machine’ for learning in.
Responses to the question of access to the outside of the classrooms varied, but it was seen as being generally satisfactory or not an issue. However, this is more likely down to the lack of any features within the classrooms surveyed that enabled direct access to the outside areas from the classrooms. This suggests that they do not make enough use of the inside-outside dimension in their teaching and pastoral care.
The integration of IT was rated in a range from very poor to very good. However, the majority of responses indicated poor or very poor integration which suggests that some schools are way behind others in this respect.
The most frequent concern by far was the restrictive size of classrooms and the inadequate amount of space available for storage and resources. Issues relating to other criteria used for the coding of responses, i. e. acoustics, lighting, temperature and ventilation, although mentioned in the responses, failed to reveal much evidence about the issues. However, this may have much to do with the low aspirations many teachers have got used to over the past thirty years. Evidence suggests that teachers believed that there was a relationship between teaching activities and the flexibility and adaptability of the classroom layout, indicating that teachers recognize the important role the classroom has in supporting a variety of activities. The need for specialist areas was a frequent response, but not enough space within the existing classroom was available.
The following four questions examine the physical environment in relation to the spatial implications of the National Curriculum.
What is the structure of teaching and learning activities associated with the National Curriculum and the differing uses of the National Curriculum? Lesson structures were found to be a combination of standard, dual activity or multiple activities. The periods of the lesson devoted to teaching activities took up the most time in lessons and ranged from
50.0 to 85.7 per cent of the lesson. Periods of transition between teaching activity in dual and multiple activity lessons ranged from 2.4 to 12.0 per cent. Plenary took between 5.5 and 23.0 per cent of the duration of lessons and concluding stages ranged from 2.8 to 16.7 per cent of the total duration of lessons.
How is the classroom environment being used during the teaching and learning activities associated with the National Curriculum? The data shows that teachers spent on average 81.3 per cent of their time teaching, which in the lessons observed ranged from 66.6 to 93.8 per cent. Time spent managing was very varied ranging from 7.2 to 53.0 per cent, with on average almost one fifth (17.5 per cent) of their time spent managing. This illustrates a complex relationship between teaching and managing, and affects the amount that pupils actually learn.
The two most common forms of classroom organization recorded were whole class and individual. Whole class organization was encountered at some point in lessons, ranging from 10 to 100 per cent of the lesson duration; as groups in only 4 lessons, ranging from 47.0 to 70.9 per cent of the lesson duration; and as paired organization in 3 lessons, ranging from 32.3 to 90.0 per cent. Individual organization was noted in 34 of the lessons and varied from 17.0 to 90.0 per cent. By far the greatest amount of time spent interacting with the teacher was as part of whole class teaching activities. In this, the teacher would interact with the whole class, either by addressing pupils where they sat or by arranging the pupils to sit around the teacher on the floor.
How does the organization of resources in the classroom environment support the teaching and learning activities associated with the National Curriculum? Classroom layouts were arranged either in rows, group seating arrangements or a combination of both. Neither classroom age nor size dictated the layout of the classroom, although its size was a limitation to the possible arrangement of furniture and resources, and was observed to cause circulation problems for both pupils and teachers. The location and movement of the teacher and learning support staff in the classroom did not relate to the layout of the room but to the teaching activity and organization of the class. Pupil movement within the classroom during teaching activities took place for a number of reasons, for example, to collect materials and equipment.
The final question challenges the existing approaches to classroom design. Is it possible to support and improve the design of primary classroom environments to enable a better delivery of the National Curriculum? The study has revealed that the environment is an important resource for teaching and learning. Furthermore, teaching strategies could be better planned and organized to implement the delivery of the National Curriculum. The study provides evidence that is particularly supportive to teachers and architects, and it is hoped that the following sections regarding professional implications and classroom design guidelines can be utilized in a process of collaboration to promote the development and design of better primary classrooms over the next decade.
Initially, this chapter outlined some of the physical implications of the National Curriculum, pointing out that it does not refer specifically to classroom environments and specific ways in which this relates to teaching. However, the research has demonstrated that there is a strong relationship between the physical environment of the classroom and the teaching and learning strategies associated with the National Curriculum. In order to advance this concept through the complex processes of procurement, design and implementation, both architects and teachers need to be aware of this critical relationship.
Traditionally, classrooms have been designed on the basis of a generalized prediction of activities, functions and teaching styles, with users having to accept what they were given with very little scope to change or adapt the space after it has been handed over. This is especially common in primary schools where teachers ‘inherit’ a classroom designed for an earlier generation of teachers. They may attempt to make the best of things but they are rarely able to create conditions which optimize contemporary teaching strategies. Therefore, due to the hierarchical nature of the process by which primary classrooms are designed, with little end user consultation, there is a tendency for teachers to be passive and accept the obvious shortcomings of the spaces that they are given.
Teachers are clearly able to identify problems occurring in the classroom environment. This awareness is important, but this alone is not enough to bring about change and there is far too little respect given to teachers’ views within the design process. The primary classroom can support or restrict the primary teacher’s organizational decisions, decisions about the location of resources and much else. The quality of the classroom environment in general is a significant component of educational efficiency. Teachers who recognize the role of the environment and are dissatisfied with their present classroom environments will be an important catalyst for change, however the teaching profession must be more articulate and knowing in their arguments for better architecture.
Recommendations regarding the physical environment of the classroom have mainly been limited to the enforcement of minimum space standards across the board. Design professionals who can offer creative design solutions often do so with an inadequate understanding of the educational process. All classrooms should meet minimal standards pertaining to the Premises Standards Regulations, however, this alone does not ensure an effective teaching and learning environment. Architects need to go much
further. Unfortunately there is a void between meaningful architectural discourse and educational discourses when it comes to conceiving classroom space. This approach often ends with classrooms that provide only a narrow repertoire of dedicated teaching and learning zones. With a few exceptions, even the latest schools designed from department of education guidelines appear to be little different from their twentieth-century counterparts.
The difference between statutory regulations and what are non-statutory guidelines is often confusing. For example, in theory there is no statutory minimum for classroom floor areas, but a precise framework which is accepted as the standard. In practice this forms a straitjacket within which budgetary and procurement systems dictate the end product. It is very difficult for school user clients to tailor their classrooms to the particular context and community within which they are working. It also makes it difficult to innovate and step beyond the constraints of the 54 m2 standard classroom as defined by the guidelines.
One of the key lessons of this study is that there is no standard approach to the design of classrooms. A classroom is not ‘a machine for learning in’ (although it needs to be efficient); it is more an organic, dynamic entity which should grow to fit a number of variable criteria which are interpreted in a unique way each and everytime.
So there is a need for solutions to meet the existing standards, but also a need to interpret guidelines creatively and to develop design criteria in collaboration with the teachers, which are specific to the context within which the school is located. This will require variations in capital budgets between schools.
To initiate this, two things need to be done. Firstly, staff in particular and pupils should be more articulate about their natural understanding of the environment in which they work. Developing environmental awareness involves understanding the effects that the classroom has on implementing the National Curriculum, through continually reflecting on its different physical characteristics and in turn how these affect the processes of learning and teaching. It is necessary to find ways to give teachers greater authority in both the design and redesigning of the space in which they teach. Things change and the shape of the classroom must be allowed to evolve as teaching strategies move on. Secondly, being environmentally capable of responding to knowledge requires architects to look beyond the statutory and recommended guidelines, which are so often the minimum that government can get away with financially. In areas of high social deprivation, for example, different classroom forms are almost certainly necessary. Architects must have enhanced knowledge about
education in order to transform the school environment more efficiently. This requires ongoing research and consultation between teachers and architects about the evolving needs of education. The analogy might be drawn between civil aircraft design, which constantly adapts to the changing needs of its customers and advances its technology due to its manufacturers’ deep and intimate relationship with its users, and the economies which dictate competition between Boeing and Airbus.
A clear brief makes it easier to ensure that the classroom environments and supporting spaces within a primary school meet the expectations of the users. However, the brief should be much more than a finite schedule of accommodation. It should also incorporate a process which engages the users through graphic demonstrations of the available options following extensive consultation at early design stages. The brief describes the users, their activities, their needs, preferences and expectations and this is something which should be open to interpretation. Architects rely on this conceptual model of the users during the design process. However, if these models are inadequate the environment will fail to meet the users’ needs. If the designs of primary classrooms are to be effectively developed by architects, then it is important that this is done in close collaboration and discussion with teachers. Good clients create good buildings.
The classroom brief should not be seen as a static document and should be developed, allowing time to advance and refine its objectives, particularly as teaching methods and classroom resources are continuously developing. Not only do architects need to know what kind of teaching and learning they are supporting in primary school environments, it is also necessary to appreciate that the needs of users is a constantly evolving process.
In relation to this there are numerous matters to consider, including individual learning styles, pedagogical strategies and learning objectives. Teachers must be critical and active participants in the classroom design process, with the process being as broad and as inclusive as possible. If
the impact of primary school investment is to be optimized, the way forward is through designing, renovating and remodelling primary school environments so they provide not only sufficient space and adequate conditions, but also inspirational places for learning. Physical changes could include simple modifications such as choosing more appropriate age-related furniture types, arranging furniture according to activity needs, or acquiring and integrating learning technologies that work into everyday curriculum activities. Detail design is important, but so too are large – scale changes that may include redesigning the entire school building in order to cluster certain activities, such as information communication technology, or offer an additional range of spaces to complement existing classroom environments which may be difficult to adapt. It is something of a conundrum, how do you design for change in the future, yet also for quite specific functional requirements in the present? Like airplanes, it may be necessary to build classrooms which are disposable after a certain time, to accommodate the evolving needs of education and society. Governments need to think seriously about the undoubted financial implications; in other words, how committed they are to educating their people? Education is failing too many. We need more funding, more flexibility, more freedom for teachers to customize the curriculum to individual children, more mentoring, better classrooms, and more imagination. That is how important changing attitudes are and making the classroom fit for the twenty-first century.
What follows is a checklist to consider, which it is hoped will help architects, clients and users. These recommendations can also be considered in both the refurbishment and the extension of existing facilities.
The classroom is a shared space and a balance needs to be struck between the needs of the teaching staff, the needs of children and the resources available. The architecture, furniture and technology must be integrated to provide quick, easily reconfigurable rooms. To accommodate these changes the classroom needs to be larger, more flexible, and technology enhanced, promoting
relaxed interactions and encouraging a sense of
• Consider the need for secure storage for teachers’ personal possessions
• Provide storage which is only accessible to teachers but storage which is accessible to children as appropriate
• Particularly at key stage 2, the classroom needs enough space for pupils to be organized in different groupings
• Circulation routes around the classroom need to be clear and unencumbered; the primary route should remain the same even when furniture layouts change
• The National Curriculum dictates specific activities; zones for these activities within the classroom should be identified and provided for in addition to the general teaching area, space permitting
• The position of the teacher’s desk needs to be considered, particularly as the teacher moves around the space constantly; it may need to be centrally located
• Whole class teaching will require a single focus for teacher demonstrations to all 30 children; consider the shape of the space to provide minimal distraction when children adopt a single focus
• Instructional resources such as white boards require space for teacher demonstrations and pupil interaction
• Furniture should be robust but also attractive to encourage and help motivate children
• The classroom will support a range of activities simultaneously, a single rectangular form may not be appropriate, rather subsidiary spaces off the main space to provide special interactive learning zones
• Adaptable lighting, which supports a variation in the location, and focus of activities should be considered
• Acoustics are important when different activities are taking place within the same space
• The integration of computers and digital technology needs to be anticipated
• A well-organized classroom will be functional with materials, tools and equipment arranged ergonomically so they are easy to find, use and store away
• Curriculum resources needed to support learning activities should be identified and should dictate the layout of the room
• The display of children’s work should be integrated into the classroom and should not be too distracting or overpowering.
The planned layout of an activity area should match the intentions of the activity, with resources in close proximity, making sure that frequently used classroom materials are accessible to pupils. This will minimize the amount of time preparing for activities, concluding stages and periods of transition from one activity to the next. In addition, the rapid advances in information technology are and will continue to have a major impact on classroom design and it is likely that new classroom spaces will be needed for new educational purposes as these are developed and introduced to primary practice.
The influence of the classroom environment is continuous and how well the environment works over time will relate directly to the teaching and learning strategies imposed. If done correctly the resulting classroom will be perceived as flexible and/or adaptable. Teachers may override the system, so they always have other options. Such approaches aim to maximize the amount of time that teachers can spend teaching.
As has been shown in this chapter, teaching and learning methods associated with the National Curriculum are very varied, ranging from whole class instruction to individual, self-directed learning. There is a tendency for primary classrooms to be perceived as inflexible. Given the opportunity and appropriate tools, alternatives and modifications to existing classrooms could be explored, and these explorations would suggest interesting alternatives to present classroom environments. Making active changes through experimenting with a variety of spatial organizations and layouts would challenge the accepted norm and develop more innovative classrooms. It does feel as if we are still using a nineteenth-century model – the very term ‘classroom’ emphasizes this antiquated form.
Literacy hour lesson structures are as follows:
1 Approximately 15 minutes shared reading and writing – whole class
Shared writing provides many opportunities for pupils to learn, apply and reinforce skills in the context of a larger group with careful guidance from the teacher. Teachers should use texts to provide ideas and structures for the writing and, in collaboration with the class, compose texts, teaching how they are planned and how ideas are sequenced and clarified and structured. Shared writing is also used to teach grammar and spelling skills, to demonstrate features of layout and presentation and to focus on editing and refining work. It should also be used as a starting point for subsequent independent writing. Wherever possible, shared reading and writing should be interlinked. For example, over a five-day period a teacher may plan to (a) introduce a text, (b) work on it through shared reading and then (c) use the text as a ‘frame’ for writing or as a stimulus to extend, alter or comment on it. (DfEE, 1998: 11)
2 Approximately 15 minutes word level work – whole class
There must be a systematic, regular and frequent teaching of phonological awareness, phonics and spelling throughout Key Stage 1. Teachers should follow the progression set out in the word level objectives carefully. It sets out both an order of teaching and the expectations of what pupils should achieve by the end of each term. The work must be given a specific teaching focus in the Literacy Hour.
Although it is essential that these decoding skills are practised and applied in shared reading, they also need to be taught through carefully structured activities, which help pupils to hear and discriminate regularities in speech and to see how these are related to letters and letter combinations in spelling and reading. The majority of pupils can learn these basic phonic skills rapidly and easily. Word recognition, graphic knowledge, and vocabulary work should also have a teaching focus during this period of 15 minutes. At Key Stage 2, this time should be used to cover spelling and vocabulary work and the teaching of grammar and punctuation from the sentence level objectives. For Key Stage 1 pupils, these sentence-level objectives should be covered in the context of shared reading and writing and this remains an important context for teaching skills at Key Stage 2. Nevertheless, teachers will need to plan a balance of word and sentence level work for this second part of the Hour, across each half-term, to ensure that all these objectives are covered. (DfEE, 1998:11)
3 Approximately 20 minutes guided group and independent work
This section of the Literacy Hour has two complementary purposes:
• to enable the teacher to teach at least one group per day, differentiated by ability, for a sustained period through guided reading or writing;
• to enable other pupils to work independently and individually, in pairs or in groups and without recourse to the teacher.
Guided reading is the counterpart to shared reading. The essential difference is that, in guided reading and writing, the teacher focuses on independent reading and writing, rather than modelling the processes for pupils. Guided reading should be a fundamental part of each school’s literacy programme. In effect, it takes the place of an individualised reading programme and, as a carefully structured group activity, it significantly increases time for sustained teaching. In ability groups of four to six, pupils should have individual copies of the same text. The texts need to be carefully selected to match the reading level of the group. In the early stages pupils should meet texts of graded difficulty as they progress. These texts will often be selected from reading schemes or programmes and can usually be built up from existing book stocks with some careful supplementation. At Key Stage 1, teachers should introduce the text to the group, to familiarise them with the overall context of the story and point out any key words they need to know. Pupils then read it independently, while the teacher assesses and supports each pupil in the group. The same principles apply at Key Stage 2. However, as pupils progress, the teaching should focus increasingly on guided silent reading with questions to direct or check up on the reading, points to note, problems to solve etc., to meet the text level objectives in the Framework.
Guided writing – as with guided reading, these writing sessions should be to teach pupils to write independently. The work will normally be linked to reading, and will often flow from work in the whole class-shared writing session. These sessions should also be used to meet specific objectives and focus on specific aspects of the writing process, rather than on the completion of a single piece of work. Often, these teaching inputs can be followed through during independent work in subsequent sessions. For example, pupils might focus on:
• planning a piece of writing to be continued independently later;
• composing a letter;
• expanding or contracting a text to elaborate, summarise, etc.;
• constructing complex sentences;
• connecting points together in an argument;
• editing work into paragraphs, headings, etc. for clarity and presentation.
Independent work. – often this happens at the same time as the guided group work. The class needs to be carefully managed and the pupils well trained so that they are clear about what they should be doing and do not interrupt the teacher. There are many forms of organisation ranging from a carousel of ability groups, with a rotation of activities for each group, to completely individual work, e. g. a whole class writing activity derived from an earlier shared writing session. Independent tasks should cover a wide range of objectives including:
• independent reading and writing;
• phonic and spelling investigations and practice;
• comprehension work;
• reviewing and evaluating;
• proof-reading and editing;
• vocabulary extension and dictionary work;
• handwriting practice;
• practice and investigations in grammar, punctuation and sentence construction;
• preparing presentations for the class.
Pupils should be trained not to interrupt the teacher and there should be sufficient resources and alternative strategies for them to fall back on if they get stuck. They should also understand the importance of independence for literacy, and how to use their own resources to solve problems and bring tasks to successful conclusions. (DfEE, 1998: 12)
4 Final 10 minutes – plenary session with the whole class:
The final plenary is at least as important as the other parts of the lesson. It is not a time for clearing up and should be clearly signalled as a separate session when the whole class is brought together. It should be used to:
• enable the teacher to spread ideas, re-emphasise teaching points, clarify misconceptions and develop new teaching points;
• enable pupils to reflect upon and explain what they have learned and to clarify their thinking;
• enable pupils to revise and practise new skills acquired in an earlier part of the lesson;
• develop an atmosphere of constructive criticism and provide feedback and encouragement to pupils;
• provide opportunities for the teacher to monitor and assess the work of some of the pupils;
• provide opportunities for pupils to present and discuss key issues in their work. (DfEE, 1998: 13)
1 Article by Herman Hertzberger, Harvard Educational Review, 1969
2 Jackson, P. W (1968). Life in Classrooms. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston.
3 Architecture as opposed to building has been described and explained in many different ways; the following is from Laugier (1753): ‘The sight of a building, perfect as a work of art, causes a delightful pleasure which is irresistible. It stirs in us noble and moving ideas and that sweet emotion and enchantment which works of art carrying the imprint of a superior mind arouse in us. A beautiful building speaks eloquently for its architect’ from Companion to Contemporary Architectural Thought, Farmer, B., Louw, H., (eds). Routledge: London, Preface.
4 Bennett, N. and Kell, J. (1989). A Good Start? Four Year Olds in Infant School. Oxford: Blackwell.
5 Dean, J. (1992). Organising learning in the primary school classroom (2nd ed). London: Routledge.
6 Hastings, N. and Wood, K. C. (2002). Reorganizing Primary Classroom Learning. Buckingham: Open University Press.
7 Barker, R. G. (1978). Habitats, Environments and Human Behaviour. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
8 Herbert, E. (1998). How school environment affects children. Educational Leadership, 56(1), 69-70.
9 Clegg, D. and Billington, S. (1994). The Effective Primary Classroom: Management and
Organisation of Teaching and Learning. London: David Fulton.
10 Stewart, J. (1986). The Making of the Primary School, Milton Keynes: Open University Press. House of Commons, Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts (1986). Achievement in Primary Schools, London: HMSO.
11 Byrne, D., Williamson, B. and Fletcher, B. (1974). The Poverty of Education. Oxford: Martin Robertson.
12 Pollard, A. (1997). Reflective Teaching in the Primary School: A Handbook of the Classroom (3rd ed.): London: Cassell Education.
13 Mortimore, P., Sammons, P., Stoll, L., Lewis, D. and Ecob, R. (1988). School Matters: The Junior Years. Wells: Open Books.
14 Campbell, R. J. and Neill, S. R. (1994). Primary Teachers at Work. London: Routledge.
15 DES (1967). Children and their Primary Schools. A Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England). Vol. 1: The Report. (Plowden Report): London: HMSO.
16 Bealing, D. (1972). The Organization of Junior School Classrooms, Educational Research, 14, 231-235. Moran, P. R. (1971). ‘The Integrated Day’, Educational Research, 14, 65-69.
17 Bealing, p. 235. (See note 17.)
18 Alexander, R., Rose, J. and Woodhead, C. (1992). Curriculum Organisation and Classroom Practice in Primary Schools: A Discussion Paper. London: DES.
19 Alexander, et al. p. 35. (See note 19.)
20 Alexander, et al. p. 43. (See note 19.)
21 Blatchford, P., Kutnick, P. and Baines, E. (1999). The Nature and Use of Classroom Groups in Primary Schools. Final report to ESRC.
22 McPake, J., Harlen, W., Powney, J. and Davidson, J. (2000). Practices and Interactions in the Primary Classroom. Scottish Council for Research in Education Interchange Number 60.
23 Great Britain (1988). Education Reform Act 1988. London: HMSO.
24 DfEE and QCA (1999). The National Curriculum Handbook for Primary Teachers in England, Key Stages 1 and 2. London: HMSO.
25 DfEE, p. 26.
26 DfEE, p. 50.
27 DfEE, p. 9.
28 Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment
29 Galton, M., Hargreaves, L., Comber, C., Wall, D. and Pell, A. (1999). Inside the Primary Classroom: 20 Years On. London: Routledge & Keegan Paul.
30 Illustrated in Architecture of Schools, Dudek, M. (2000). Architectural Press: London.
31 McNamara, D. and Waugh, D. (1993). ‘Classroom Organisation: A Discussion of grouping Strategies in the light of the ‘3 Wise Men’s Report’, School Organisation, 13, 1, 44-50.
32 Bennett, N., Andreae, J., Hegarty, P. and Wade, B. (1980). Open plan schools: teaching, curriculum, design. Windsor: NFER Publishing for the Schools Council.
33 Bennett, et al. pp. 168-170. (See note 33.)
34 Hastings, N. and Schwieso, J. (1995). Tasks and Tables: the effects of seating arrangements on task engagement in primary classrooms. Educational Research, 37, 279-291.
35 Galton, p. 43. (See note 30.)
36 Galton, p. 37.
37 Proshansky, H. M. (1976). Environmental Psychology: A Methodological Orientation, in H. Prohansky, W. H. Ittelson and L. G. Rivlin (eds) Environmental Psychology – People and their Physical Settings (2nd edn). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, pp. 59-69.
John Edwards works with various architects and
designers whose hands-on experience give an
important insight about value and quality in the