HEAD Study of Schools

The HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design) is a research study of the impacts of the built environment dimension of UK Primary schools (4-11 yrs) on the learning rates of pupils.  This is a simple aim, but has actually proved to be quite a knotty problem.  There is a wealth of published material on the impacts of aspects such as temperature and air quality on human functioning in general and on those in schools in particular.  There are many strongly held views too, but a bit of a vacuum around impirical evidence of what actually does impact on learning rates in the classroom, studied "in the wild".

The final results of the project were published in Spring 2015 in the from of two freely available publications: a refereed journal paper in Buiding and Environment and an illustrated report entitled Clever Classrooms, setting out the detailed practical implications for teachers and school designers. Strong evidence has been isolated that the design feastures of the 153 classrooms studied account for 16% of the variation in the learning over a year of the 3766 pupils in them. This is a breakthrough in this area and employed multi-level modelling to separate out the pupil effects from the classroom effects. The study also used a novel conceptual model that augmented the normal comfort factors with extra dimensions of "individualisation" and the "appropriate level of stimulation". The results provide validation of the utility of this new model too. A range of seven more detailed factors emerge as being particularly important and include aspects relevant to building design (eg buiding orientation), but also use-related factors (eg the colour of the classrooms and the visual complexity of the spaces).  In several cases the results have not been entirely as expected! These results take forward the Phase 1 findings published in 2012, but now the sample size is five times bigger and consequently the results can be stated with much greater certainty. 

The work underpinning this study (click link for Study Foundations) has been in train since 2007.  Previous work on Revaluing Construction had highlighted the massive scale of the built environment and the paucity of evidence of the value running from this.  This led to an initiative to address this gap by taking a user's view, via their senses and mediated by their brain.  A multi-disciplinary Senses-Brain-Spaces workshop was held and a rich variety of prspectives gathered. This stimulated a series of interactions with Manchester City Council around school design via post occupancy evaluations and action research.  A large amount of literature and numerous case studies were also synthesised into a report.  It became clear that to compete with all the other pressures in the design process, hard evidence of impacts was needed so.  This led to the HEAD Project, with the initial support of Nightingale Associates, followed by funding from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The work was prosecuted by a multidisciplinary research team, with the support of an international Sounding Panel of experts.

The results have generated a high level of interest amongst teachers, desigmners and policymakers.