North East School Space Database

Project title: Classroom space: investigating and cataloguing primary school classroom space in north east England
Start date: April 2015
End date: February 2016

Project Leader: Pam Woolner
Project Team: Ulrike Thomas, Alison Whelan
Sponsors: Winifred Smith Fund: Legacy to Newcastle University(£10,000)


In a project funded by a legacy from a local person, Winifred Smith, with a concern for education, we are conducting an audit of primary school classrooms in north east England. The aim of the project is to investigate the physical characteristics of local primary school classrooms and to share this information so it can be used by teachers, schools leaders and other researchers. 
The intention is to examine the classrooms that are in use - size, layouts, storage, decoration - and relate that to teacher satisfaction. The information, anonymised, will be entered into a web-based data-base.  This will enable other teachers and school leaders to see how teaching spaces in their own schools compare, and follow through case studies for tips on coping with a challenging or awkward space.

Why do we want to do this?

There is a wide variation in provision, particularly within the primary sector: schools built between the mid-19th century and the present day, schools designed for disparate understandings of education adapted to fulfil current requirements, and school rolls above or below what the premises were designed for. The range of schools in current use, and the expected limits to rebuilding in the near future, provides both the opportunity and clear need for research into the impact of the physical setting on learning. We need to know how schools can make best use of the spaces they have.
Research evidence shows that the physical learning environment and student learning are linked, but this is complex. There is evidence that a generally ‘poor’ physical setting is detrimental and some indications that, particularly for primary pupils, it is the classroom, rather than the whole school premises, that matters. Previous research also suggests some aspects of the physical classroom that are important, including size, noise, light, air quality, storage and decoration.
The challenge is to understand how these factors combine or interact in actual classrooms, and how the efforts of schools and teachers may improve the use of classroom space. Interactions between the setting and the occupants are two-way, with the ability of the users to make positive changes to their environments influencing the quality of the learning experience.  Research in this area needs to investigate how details of the physical setting for learning interact with characteristics of the users (teacher and students) to produce environments which are more or less successful in terms of student and teacher satisfaction and student learning.

Developing the data-base and case studies.
The initial data collection involved the researcher visiting local schools where she was given access to two classrooms and introductions to the teachers who currently teach in them. 
In each classroom, the researcher

  • Takes photograph
  • From observation and measurement, records information about the physical characteristics of the room
  • Completes a sketch map of the room
  • Records basic characteristics of the class that mainly uses the room, including class size and year group
  • Collects a brief questionnaire from the teacher relating to experience and satisfaction with the room

Our data includes measurements or assessments of the factors previous research suggests are important, made for each classroom, together with characteristics of the class and the teacher’s ratings of the room as satisfactory for various purposes.  This data can be added to by users of the data-base, so building up an ever widening view of local classroom space.
We also have information from teachers about how they have adapted or altered their classrooms or their use of them.  This forms the basis of case studies of classrooms which have challenging aspects but where satisfactory learning environments have been created.
For further information contact:
Pam Woolner
Email: pamela.woolner@ncl.ac.uk
Telephone: 0191 208 5470