Introducing Clever Classrooms

Professor Peter Barrett, University of Salford

Over the course of three years, Professor Peter Barrett conducted a study into the effects of classroom design on primary school children’s learning potential. His research concluded that an optimised learning environment can have significant impacts on their education. Effectively, daylight can supercharge learning.


About Professor Peter Barrett

Peter Barrett is Professor of Management in Property and Construction at the University of Salford, and an honorary research fellow at the University of Oxford.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and in 1989 was the first Chartered Building Surveyor to gain a PhD.

Clever Classrooms

The Clever Classrooms report was the result of the HEAD (Holistic Evidence and Design) Project – led by Professor Peter Barrett and researchers at the University of Salford – which sought to gain insight into how classroom design can impact pupil learning rates.

The report revealed, for the first time, that various factors affect learning rates, including, most significantly, daylight, which turns out to be the biggest factor, amongst many, that influences how children learn.


Designing Clever Classrooms with Professor Peter Barrett
What makes a clever classroom?

Clever Classrooms: What you need to know

Clever Classrooms reports on the findings of a three-year study of 153 classrooms from 27 diverse schools around the UK. The research team collected performance statistics for the 3,766 pupils – aged 5 to 11 years, in classes from year 1 to 6 – who were studying in those spaces.


Key design factors

Three types of physical characteristic of a classroom were found to affect pupil learning: Stimulation, Individualisation and Naturalness, or more memorably the SIN design principles. The factors found to be particularly influential are, in order of influence:

  • Naturalness: light, temperature and air quality – accounting for half the learning impact
  • Individualisation: ownership and flexibility – accounting for about a quarter
  • Stimulation (appropriate level of): complexity and colour – again about a quarter
Key finding

To make this more tangible, it is 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, a big impact when pupils typically make 2 sub-levels progress a year.



The Practical Implications What do the findings mean?

The influence of naturalness

Professor Barrett concludes that Naturalness, Individualisation and Stimulation are the three core factors that affect a pupil’s academic performance within a classroom. However, it is the power of Naturalness that influences a pupil’s learning most significantly.


Good natural light helps to create a sense of physical and mental comfort, and its benefits seem to be more far-reaching than merely being an aid to sight. This owns in part to the soft and diffused quality of natural light, its subtle changing value and colour, which electric lighting does not have

Children are particularly vulnerable to all types of pollutants because their breathing and metabolic rates are high. Therefore, classrooms should be designed with the following considerations in mind:

Big window opening sizes and at different levels, provide varying ventilation options.

Where possible, increasing the ceiling height can mitigate air quality issues because of a larger classroom volume

An air quality monitor in the room can indicate a problem and help maintain a more comfortable environment.


As temperature and humidity increase, students report greater discomfort, and their achievement and task-performance deteriorate as attention spans decrease. A UK survey run by a teachers’ union noted that in almost 5% of classrooms, on-the-spot temperatures of over 30c were found (NASUWT, 2012).


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Many thanks to Peter Barrett of the University of Salford for his support and whose research this module is based.