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Brighter schools are essential for better learning

Here, Scott Leeder, Director at VELUX Commercial GB & IRE, looks at the benefits of specifying prefabricated modular rooflights to maximise natural light and ventilation in educational facilities.

Velux Commercial

As the population continues to increase, councils are warning that there will be a shortage of places in secondary schools over the next few years. As such, the UK is experiencing a much-needed increase in construction and renovation of education facilities; which provides a great opportunity for both local authorities and architects to rethink how the physical teaching environment can be designed to have a more positive effect on learning.

A number of scientific reports have found that educational buildings have an impact on a student’s ability, attainment and aspiration. One in particular, conducted by Professor Peter Barrett and his team of design experts at the University of Salford, showed clear evidence that differences in the physical characteristics of teaching spaces explained 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year*.

The findings outlined in the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design)* also revealed that certain elements, including daylight, temperature and indoor air quality, are intrinsic to improving learning in the classroom. The report found that more daylight and fresh air, as part of an optimised teaching environment, can increase learning capacity by up to 8%.

Several other studies from across the world have shown a positive correlation between the size of classroom windows and how well students perform on mathematics, logic and reading tests. Poor indoor air quality due to a lack of ventilation has also been shown to seriously inhibit concentration and overall performance, as well as increasing absenteeism due to illness.

Furthermore, education buildings often contain multipurpose rooms that require different lighting levels at various times of the day, which can sometimes involve complex lighting control strategies. As a result, lighting could be consuming up to 20% of the total energy costs in an establishment and it is estimated that up to 75% of buildings have lighting which is not only ineffective in its energy consumption, but is not delivering the optimum visual environment for its occupants**.

As children spend up to 90% of their day indoors, with much of that time spent within a classroom, it’s understandable that the design of these spaces matter. When developing plans for a school, college or university building architects must therefore consider how they can be constructed to be healthier and more supportive of better learning outcomes.

A very effective method of ensuring optimum levels of natural light and ventilation, is to incorporate rooflights or skylights into the building design. Skylights are uniquely able to provide natural light and fresh air to deeper layouts, such as classrooms, lecture halls, corridors and common areas, where the size and shape of the space does not allow for adequate lighting through facade windows alone.

Brighter builds

The Grade II Listed Hawthorn Engineering Works in Newcastle upon Tyne, is a great example of an education establishment that benefits from high optimum levels of natural light. The building forms part of the £12m pioneering new city centre University Technical College (UTC). The college specialises in IT and Health Science courses for 14-19 year olds and forms the latest part of the £200m Stephenson Quarter in Newcastle city centre.

Based on the site of George Stephenson’s Locomotive yard, where the Rocket was built in 1829, the college incorporates both a new build element and renovation. The concept behind the development was to construct a four-and-a-half storey teaching block next to the retained and refurbished Grade II Listed building. A key requirement of the design was high levels of natural light and ventilation.

The existing roof on the Hawthorn building, which had originally been fitted with basic linear slot glazing, had fallen into disrepair and so it was agreed that it should be replaced, while retaining as much of the original timber structure as possible. It was felt that maintaining the lines of the original rooflights would enhance the internal space and so the focus was on identifying a system that would sit harmoniously with the roof aesthetic of reclaimed slate and traditional lead work.

The architects were also looking for a rooflight system that could be used as longlights on the main UTC building and linking structure. They overcame the challenge by incorporating VELUX Modular Skylights as fixed and natural ventilation longlights, ensuring that the internal space of the Hawthorn building, ‘link’ structure and laboratories in the main college are now naturally lit and delivered controlled natural ventilation throughout the day.


Over the last few years it has become increasingly clear that the design of schools, colleges and universities has a profound effect on the health, wellbeing and academic attainment of students. An integral part of creating a well-balanced, inclusive learning and development environment is ensuring high levels of daylight and natural ventilation.

Our prefabricated modular skylights are revolutionising both how skylights look – and how they’re installed. Created with both architects and installers in mind, the striking design allows for more daylight and more fresh air, which is matched by their performance and vastly improved installation, which is up to three times faster than traditional rooflight systems.

The modules simply click into place and can be fitted together in minutes, minimising time spent on the roof and ensuring a watertight seal is achieved exceptionally quickly, so rain won’t hold up the installation. This is vital for educational builds, where time and budget constraints can put strain on schedulers and builders alike. It is also why they are fast becoming the preferred choice for commercial glazing projects throughout Europe.

To highlight this and the benefits of modular products in the design and construction of educational facilities, we recently launched a new RIBA-approved Continual Professional Development (CPD) programme for architects working in the education sector.

The CPD, ‘Under the Rooflight: Spotlight on Education’ offers a review of the latest regulatory changes in the design and construction of education buildings specifically relating to rooflights, as well as a look at the benefits of natural light and ventilation.

Contact Velux Commercial

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