Tips For New Zealand Schools On Budget Utilisation For Effective Learning Environments
The New Zealand Ministry of Education guidelines on designing learning environments says it is important that the physical design of school spaces responds and aligns to the way teaching and learning takes place at each school. School design is not just about the property, it should be an environment incorporating physical, social and learning elements.
To ensure that schools and other educational institutions are safe and fit for purpose, it is important that the guidelines for school design and project management as provided by the Ministry be followed. When learning environments are well-designed, they can contribute to success and wellbeing at the school. A positive culture and climate contributes to not just improved academic achievements, but also to engagement, behaviours and personality development.
Innovative Learning Environment
ILE (Innovative Learning Environment) is a term used in New Zealand and internationally to refer to the wider ecosystem of physical elements, people and practice that determine the environment. The focus is to align the environment; be it people, interactions, teaching and learning practices, personal and public space, technology, and other resources towards positive educational outcomes.
To create such an environment it is important that the physical design of school spaces responds and aligns to the way teaching and learning takes place at each school, which is why schools have a say in school property decision.
Quality Leaning Environment
The Government has targeted all New Zealand schools to be able to provide quality learning environments by 2030. This is primarily about the physical elements of the learning environment, and how well the property is aligned to the needs of teaching and learning at each school.
As part of this initiative, the Ministry is developing a Quality Learning Environments (QLE) model with the aim of collecting the right data about school property to ensure property decisions support the best possible learning outcomes and wellbeing of everyone on a school site. QLE also includes acoustics, indoor air quality, lighting including natural light, heating/ cooling, etc.
Flexible Learning Spaces
By choosing appropriate furniture, fittings and equipment, schools can create a more efficient flexible learning space. The learning space can be divided into different areas using tables, couches and chairs. These spaces can accommodate a range of different learning activities and groupings and can be easily reconfigured or adapted to suit activities.
Small breakout areas can be created for both individual and group work. These spaces can also be used by students to discuss their project work, teachers to meet a small group of students, a quiet place for students or even a space for staff to have informal meetings.
These can be any shared space; be it the hallway, entrance hall, library, etc. It could be a space with partitions, a booth or open area. The key is flexibility, with different seating options with some that are also easy to be moved around for the space to be reconfigured as required by the students or staff.
Ergonomically Designed Furniture
School furniture continues to evolve with movement and flexibility contributing to current trends. Furniture that is ergonomically designed and suitable for users of different sizes and physical builds are becoming popular in schools being redesigned with the future in mind.
Comfortable furniture is a key consideration for both students and teachers. This is not just in the classrooms where students and teachers spend the most time, it is also in meeting rooms, café, library, waiting areas, laboratories, breakout spaces and other areas.
A good ergonomic furniture supplier will be able to consult the school on the ideal distance between the desk and the chair, appropriate height based on the age group, recommended specification including length, depth and width of the chair, durability, comfort, practicality and other factors that such a purchase decision should be based on.
Learning Spaces for Special Needs
Evidence shows that mixed learning environments does not always work well for children who have special needs. For example, schools are starting to recognise the benefit of break out spaces for children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, APD, ADHS, etc. These smaller areas located off the learning space, can support different types of instruction or learning. Supported by staff like teacher aides these areas help them avoid sensory overload issues. Some learners are more affected by noisy learning spaces than others. It is important for schools to be designed to provide learning spaces that are acoustically suitable for all learners, including those with special education needs arising from hearing impairments or learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties.
Consult A Specialist
Just as the learning environment develops further in educational institutions; classroom design, furniture and space continue to evolve. It is worthwhile contacting classroom furniture and fitout specialists to review the range of options currently available to New Zealand schools. This could even relate to getting chairs, desks and tables custom designed and manufactured.