Technical Appendix


Changing the physical conditions or built environment of settings, either by moving to a new building, or making physical changes to improve the structure, air quality, noise, light or temperature of an existing learning space.

Search terms: physical environment, building, physical setting, physical classroom environment, built environment, built environment, sound/noise, ventilation, air quality, lighting, colour

Evidence Rating

There are no meta-analyses of studies about the impact of the built environment on learning outcomes for early years educational settings. There is one small-scale randomised trial from 1980 which found effects in kindergarten, but it has limited causal warrant. There are studies based on correlations between features of the learning environment and outcomes for children but these go beyond the built environment and include wider features of the learning environment such as availability of resources and quality of interaction. These issues make it hard to establish causal connections between the impact of any physical changes to the learning environment and improvement in children’s learning. Overall there is not enough evidence to suggest a strong relationship between the built environment in early years settings with improved educational outcomes for children. Overall the evidence is weak and inconclusive.

Additional Cost Information

It is difficult to estimate the costs of changes to the built environment precisely, as they are usually part of capital spending, rather than annual budgets. For example, a new purpose-built nursery school for 100 children costs about £1-2 million up front, but is likely to be used by several generations of children. Improving air quality can be done relatively cheaply with better ventilation, filtration and the use of dehumidifiers where necessary. Overall, per child 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.
Hill, G. R.
The effects of selected environmental factors on the productivity of students in kindergarten as measured by the Clymer Barrett Pre-Reading Battery open_in_new
Doctoral dissertation, Florida Atlantic University). (Order No. 8028438) Available from ProQuest dissertations & Theses Global (303002517)
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.
Melhuish, E. C., Phan, M. B., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Siraj‐Blatchford, I., & Taggart, B.
Effects of the home learning environment and preschool center experience upon literacy and numeracy development in early primary school. open_in_new
Journal of Social Issues, 64(1), 95-114.
Molfese, V. J., Modglin, A., & Molfese, D. L.
The Role of Environment in the Development of Reading Skills A Longitudinal Study of Preschool and School-Age Measures. open_in_new
Journal of learning disabilities, 36(1), 59-67.
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.
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.
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.

Summary of effects

Single Studies Effect size FSM effect size
Hill, G. R. (1980)
0.28 -
Maxwell, L. E., & Evans, G. W. (2000)
0.13 -
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.

Although the single studies presented both show positive effect sizes (confidence intervals are wide and cross zero; see individual studies for more detail), the indicative effect size has been estimated as zero because of the limited causal warrant of these studies.