Clever classrooms : Summary report of the HEAD project

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Based on the results of the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design), funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, clear evidence has been found that well-designed primary schools boost children’s academic performance in reading, writing and maths. Differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explain 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year for the 3766 pupils included in the study. Or 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.

Three types of physical characteristic of the classroomswere assessed: Stimulation, Individualisation andNaturalness, or more memorably the SIN designprinciples. 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.

A very positive finding is that users (teachers) can readily action many of the factors. The suggestions included show that small changes, costing very little or nothing, can make a real difference. For example, changing the layout of the room, the choices of display, or colour of the walls. We hope that designers, involved in creating new or making alterations to primary schools, and teaching professionals, acting as clients or deciding how use their teaching spaces, will find the evidence presented here stimulating and useful.


Barrett, Peter, et al. “Clever Classrooms : Summary Report of the HEAD Project.” University of Salford, http://ow.ly/Jz2vV. Accessed 5 Oct. 2022.


This piece of research is exactly what I need. This is well-researched and detailed advice about classroom design! I will definitely be applying these findings in my work. The statistics found about the impact of classroom characteristics are great to know, since I have little control over the way teaching is done in the DPP, nor would it be my place to try and control that. Many of my other articles are targeted towards educators, but this is advice that includes me in the audience.