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School Design

Designing Primary Schools for the Future - ESRI Report

For general design guidelines visit the DES website at www.education.ie/en/School-design

An ESRI Report, Designing Primary Schools for the Future, was published on 15 October 2010. The main findings of the report are published below.

There has been very little research on the effects of school design on teaching and learning in Irish primary schools. The increasing number of school-age children in the coming decades provides an opportunity to design and build schools which enhance pupil engagement and achievement. Future school design needs to be informed by the experiences of people who use the facilities the most – principals, teachers and pupils. Designing Primary Schools for the Future draws on interviews with education stakeholders, principals, teachers and pupils as well as a review of international research in assessing how primary school buildings can be used to enhance the learning process.

The main findings of the study:

  • The Primary Curriculum (1999) is seen as having contributed to more active learning approaches. However, there is scope for greater use of group work and play-based learning.
  • The design of some primary schools (especially older buildings) makes it difficult to put the child-centred curriculum approach fully into practice.
  • Small or medium-sized schools are seen as allowing for more personal interaction among members of the education community and yielding a greater sense of ownership over school life.
  • Smaller class sizes are seen to allow for the use of more active learning methods and for more individual attention to pupils.
  • Natural lighting and ventilation, flexibility in temperature control and lack of noise travelling between rooms are seen to enhance teaching and learning activities.
  • Stakeholders, teachers and pupils are critical of available ICT/computer facilities and modern technology in primary schools. There is considerable potential to integrate ICT more fully into day-to-day teaching and learning.
  • Outdoor space is centrally important to children's experience of school. However, outdoor spaces attract the most criticism, in terms of lack of space, poor surfaces and lack of play equipment. As a result, the considerable potential for using outdoor spaces for learning is not exploited.

Implications for the future design of schools:

  • Schools built according to the current design guidelines are seen more positively by teachers and pupils than older school types in terms of classroom size, accessibility, lighting, heating, ventilation and storage, while incorporating principles of environmental sustainability. The research findings suggest further enhancements in the following areas:
  • Outdoor space should incorporate a variety of play surfaces and playground equipment (appropriate for different age-groups) along with a school garden and other spaces.
  • Schools should be located on sites which are large enough to allow the use of outdoor space for teaching and learning as well as play and sports and to facilitate future expansion resulting from population growth.  
  • Schools should be located close to the centre of the community to encourage parental involvement in school life. Parental involvement should be facilitated by providing a space for parents to meet within the school.
  • The potential to move towards an 'extended school model', with early childhood care and education along with local social and community services, provided within or close to the school should be investigated.
  • The availability of modern technology; the full integration of ICT into teaching and learning requires adequate access to up-to-date computers, broadband services, and technical support/maintenance. Such provision should be underpinned by continuing professional development for teachers regarding the effective use of ICT in teaching.
  • The increased diversity and fluidity of the pupil population requires the allocation of more and larger rooms (on a flexible basis) for supplementary teaching activities to support special educational and language needs.
  • Greater attention should be paid by school management to the fit-out of schools - providing ergonomic and age-appropriate furniture appropriate to differing pupil needs.
  • A designated space should be provided for pupils to eat their lunches outside the classroom.
  • Adequate storage space for pupil books and belongings should be provided within the classroom.
  • The authors of this study recommend that attention should be given to the creative use of indoor and outdoor space in initial and continuous professional development.

The research described in this study was supported by a grant from the Research and Development Committee of the Department of Education and Skills.  

  • Click here to read full report
Planning A School Building Project? (pdf, 303 kb)
InTouch Article - April 2014
School Design (pdf, 122 kb)
InTouch Article: September 2011