Technical Appendix


This entry covers changes to the built environment such as a move to a new school building or improvements to the design, air quality, noise, light, or temperature of an existing building.

Search Terms: Physical environment; building; physical setting; physical classroom environment; built environment; physical learning environment

Evidence Rating

There are no meta-analyses of interventions on the impact of the built environment on learning. Available systematic reviews do not contain effect size information. Research on this area is mainly based on correlational studies or drawn as inferences from wider environmental research. There are two strands of evidence, one which looks for a link between attainment and poor environmental conditions (negative effects) and one which seeks to identify a link between attainment and good conditions or particular features (positive effects). There are very few rigorous experimental designs or well-matched studies, and this makes it hard to establish causal claims about the impact of physical changes.The correlational evidence tends to be stronger for the negative effect of poor conditions. Overall the evidence is rated as very limited.

Additional Cost Information

It is very difficult to estimate the costs of changes to the built environment as they are usually part of capital spending and a single cost, rather than a recurrent part of a school budget. A new secondary school costs about £15 million for 1,500 pupils or £10,000 per pupil. However, several generations of pupils are likely to use the building. Improving air quality can be done relatively cheaply with better ventilation, filtration and the use of dehumidifiers where necessary. Overall, costs are estimated as low.


Baker, L., & Bernstein, H.
The Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Performance open_in_new
Washington DC: The Center for Green Schools
Bakó-Biró, Z., Clements-Croome, D. J., Kochhar, N., Awbi, H. B., & Williams, M. J.
Ventilation rates in schools and pupils’ performance open_in_new
Building and Environment, 48, 215-223
Daisey, J. M., Angell, W. J., & Apte, M. G.
Indoor air quality, ventilation and health symptoms in schools: an analysis of existing information open_in_new
Indoor Air, 13(1), 53-64
Evans, G. W., & Maxwell, L.
Chronic Noise Exposure and Reading Deficits The Mediating Effects of Language Acquisition open_in_new
Environment and Behavior, 29(5), 638-656
Maxwell, L. E., & Evans, G. W.
The effects of noise on pre-school children's pre-reading skills open_in_new
Journal of environmental Psychology, 20(1), 91-97
O’Sullivan, S.
A study of the relationship between building conditions and student academic achievement in Pennsylvania’s high school open_in_new
Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Shield, B. M., & Dockrell, J. E.
The effects of environmental and classroom noise on the academic attainments of primary school children open_in_new
The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 123(1), 133-144
Storey, H. C., Pearce, J., Ashfield-Watt, P. A. L., Wood, L., Baines, E., & Nelson, M.
A randomized controlled trial of the effect of school food and dining room modifications on classroom behaviour in secondary school children open_in_new
European journal of clinical nutrition, 65(1), 32-38
Tanner, C. K.
The influence of school architecture on academic achievement open_in_new
Journal of Educational Administration, 38(4), 309-330
Uline, C., & Tschannen-Moran, M.
The walls speak: The interplay of quality facilities, school climate, and student achievement open_in_new
Journal of Educational Administration, 46(1), 55-73
Waterhouse, L.
Multiple intelligences, the Mozart effect, and emotional intelligence: A critical review open_in_new
Educational Psychologist, 41(4), 207-225
Woolner, P., Hall, E., Higgins, S., McCaughey, C., & Wall, K.
A sound foundation? What we know about the impact of environments on learning and the implications for Building Schools for the Future open_in_new
Oxford Review of Education, 33(1), 47-70
Woolner, P., Hall, E., Wall, K., Higgins, S., Blake, A. & McCaughey, C.
School building programmes: motivations, consequences and implications open_in_new
Reading: CfBT

Summary of effects

Single Studies Effect size FSM effect size
Evans, G. W., & Maxwell, L. (1997)
-1.40 - Reading (Chronic noise)
O’Sullivan, S. (2006)
0.36 - Reading (Building conditions)
0.36 - Maths (Building conditions)
Shield, B. M., & Dockrell, J. E. (2008)
-0.36 - (External noise on 5-7 year olds)
-0.41 - (External noise on 8-11 year olds)
-0.40 - (Internal noise on 5-7 year olds)
-0.43 - (Internal noise on 8-11 year olds)
Indicative effect size 0.00  

The right hand column provides detail on the specific outcome measures or, if in brackets, details of the intervention or control group.