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Natural Light and Colour in Schools

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

With students up and down the country currently undertaking GCSE and A-Level exams we thought it would be helpful to share our thoughts on why natural light and colour are so important to the academic achievement and wellbeing of the nation’s children.

The practice leaders at WR-AP have over 20 years’ experience of designing and delivering new schools in the UK and although understanding and meeting the challenges of creating NZCiO schools is the predominate issue affecting the sector now, natural light is an essential element of school design, providing numerous benefits to students and staff alike. Not only does natural light have a positive impact on academic performance, but it also helps to create a more positive and healthy learning environment.

The UK Department of Education's (DfE) Technical Design Annexe 2E emphasizes the importance of natural light in school design. It recommends that designers should aim to maximize the amount of natural light entering the building and ensure that all areas of the school have access to natural light. Additionally, the document outlines the importance of creating a balance between natural and artificial light, as well as the need for shading to prevent glare and overheating.

So, why is natural light so important in schools?

Firstly, it has been shown to have a positive impact on academic performance. One study conducted by the Sorbonne University using SINPHONIE Study data, covering 13 European countries concluded that academic performance can increase by up to 15% when students work in classrooms with larger windows.

The Clever Classrooms study conducted by the University of Salford in 2015 concluded that good daylight helps to create a sense of physical and mental comfort, its benefits more far-reaching than merely an aid to sight. This is likely due to the fact that natural light helps to improve focus and concentration levels, as well as reducing eye strain and fatigue.

In addition to its academic benefits, natural light also has a positive impact on mental health and well-being. Exposure to natural light helps to regulate the body's circadian rhythm, which is responsible for sleep-wake cycles. This, in turn, can help to improve sleep patterns and reduce the risk of depression and other mood disorders.

So, how can schools maximize the amount of natural light entering the building? One option is to use large windows or glass walls to allow natural light to enter the space, balanced against overheating criteria. Skylights and light wells can also be used to bring natural light into the building's interior. WR-AP’s proposals for The Fulham Pre-Prep School used a range of different window types to ensure variety of daylight into the early years learning spaces. See here

It is important to note, however, that natural light should be balanced with artificial light. The UK Department of Education's Technical Design Annexe 2E recommends that artificial lighting should be designed to complement natural light, rather than replace it. Additionally, shading should be used to prevent glare and overheating, particularly in south-facing classrooms.

So what about the use of colour in schools

While natural light is important in school design, it is also important to consider the psychology of colour when selecting colours for the internal environment of UK schools. Colour has a significant impact on mood and behaviour and can be used to create a positive and stimulating learning environment.

Source: Anna Efetova

The UK Department of Education's Technical Design Advice recommends using colour to create a sense of identity and ownership within the school, as well as to enhance the learning environment. However, it is important to use colour in a strategic and considered way, as too much colour can be overwhelming and distracting for some students.

So, what colours should be used in schools? Blue and green are calming colours that can help to reduce stress and anxiety, making them ideal for classrooms and other areas where students may feel nervous or overwhelmed. Yellow is a bright and stimulating colour that can help to promote creativity and innovation, making it a good choice for art studios and other creative spaces.

Red and orange are vibrant and energizing colours that can help to promote physical activity and movement, making them a good choice for gymnasiums and other areas where students are likely to be active. However, it is important to use these colours in moderation, as they can be overwhelming and distracting if overused.

Neutral colours, such as white, grey, and ecru, can be used to create a sense of balance and harmony in the school environment. These colours can also help to create a sense of spaciousness and openness, making them a good choice for hallways and other areas where students may congregate.

In conclusion, natural light and the psychology of colour are both important considerations in the design of schools and they should be used sensitively to complement the architecture employed within school design.

If you’d like to find out more about WR-AP’s knowledge and experience in delivering truly inspirational education projects please get in touch with our director Sean Weston .

This blog post has been written by Sean, one of the directors here at WR-AP . Sean's desire to work in an industry that could help people and society in a small way led him to pursue a career in architecture. You can read more about Sean here.


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