Does the way our classroom is decorated affect your student’s learning?

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As leading school painters and decorators in London, we’ve partnered with teachers across the city. We use our expertise, backed by academic research and years in the industry, to craft the ideal working environment for students.

Today, we’re talking about classroom decoration, whether classroom interior design affects students’ learning, and how to decorate your primary, secondary or high school classroom.

Let’s begin with what classroom interior design often gets wrong: design professionals often “miss incorporating the students’ ideas and opinions”, argues Erin Klein, teacher and former interior designer.

Instead, the basic principles of decorating your classroom should be motivated by child-centric data. Therefore, this guide draws from validated studies on students’ academic performance and behaviour.

Key Principles of Classroom Interior Design & Their Effect on Learning

A study by the University of Salford on 34 different classrooms concludes that there are a handful of key principles to consider when decorating your classroom.

We’ll run through everything you need to know about the results below. These findings are significant, as the “worst” and “best” decorated classrooms had an academic impact score of 11 points, which is the same increase a pupil would be expected to make over a year.

This suggests that, in theory, classroom decoration improvements can increase students’ progress by a whole year.

The study concluded: “The single most important finding reported here, is that there is clear evidence that the physical characteristics of primary schools make an impact on pupils’ learning progress in reading, writing and mathematics.

This impact is quite large, scaling at explaining 16% of the variation in the overall progress over a year of the 3766 pupils included in the study.

By fixing all factors to their mean scores, except the physical environment factors, the impact of moving an “average” child from the least effective to the most effective classroom has been modelled at around 1.3 sub-levels, a big impact when pupils typically make 2 sub-levels progress a year.

As far as we are aware, this is the first time that clear evidence of the effect on users of the overall design of the physical learning space has been isolated in real-life situations.”

Flexible Learning Spaces

A key factor the study highlights is flexible learning spaces in a classroom that cater to different modes of learning.

For example, students will benefit from different areas for play-based learning and more traditional education. These different sections of the room can stimulate students to “switch on” certain cognitive functions and encourage appropriate behaviour.

For example, being louder and speaking without raising their hands may be appropriate in the classroom play section but not in the main part of the classroom.

Here are some ways to incorporate flexible learning spaces into your classroom:

Personalized Elements

Although personalized coat hooks and student work on walls have long been used in the classroom setting, the aforementioned study provides academic rigour to the idea that individualisation and ownership can help children’s identity and self-worth.

Here are some ideas to incorporate personalised elements into your classroom:

Complexity of Classroom Decor

The study also concludes that an intermediary level of complexity in the visual diversity of displays is ideal for the classroom setting. For optimum pupil learning, the study advises not covering more than 80% of the available wall area.

A study by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) also supports this conclusion. Kindergarten students were given six science lessons in unfamiliar topics.

Then, they answered multiple-choice questions about the topics they’d just learned about. In a decorated classroom, pupils gained more correct answers, at an average of 55%, compared to the highly-decorated classroom’s students at 42%.

The rate of off-task behaviours time on the total time spent in the highly decorated classroom (38.6%) was significantly higher than in the simple decorating room (28.4%).

Therefore, both these studies suggest that over-decoration of classrooms actually distracts students and leads to poorer academic performance.

However, Professor Fisher, from CMU, argues that removing classroom decorations and going for the “minimal” look isn’t a good option, either. Instead, identifying specific distractions and removing them is a better option.

Here’s a rundown of the ways you can put ideal classroom decor into practice:

Color of Classroom Decor

The study by the University of Salford also found that an intermediate level of colour was best for stimulating students’ learning.

Through comparing 34 different classrooms, they concluded that the ideal interior design of a classroom would be a light-coloured (not white) wall, with colourful decor.

As with every one of these key principles of classroom interior design, there’s usually a bit of trial-and-error necessary.

Alternatively, you can partner with a specialist firm like GS Decorating. We have experience working with hundreds of teachers across London, helping to craft the perfect learning environment.

Primary School Classrooms: What Teachers Need to Know About Classroom Decoration

For primary school teachers and decision-makers, here are the key takeaways on decorating classrooms:

  1. Provide different learning areas, designed for different modes of learning, all within one classroom. Although students may also learn in more diverse environments – like the school grounds, the gym, and outside excursions – the classroom is where primary school students spend most of their day.
  2. Because primary school students usually stay in one classroom (whereas secondary school students tend to move between rooms for lessons), personalisation is easier. Your students can help decorate the class and have outstanding work presented on display. Personalisation and ownership are crucial in developing children’s sense of self-worth and identity, key neurological facets developed in the primary school years.
  3. Opt for light-coloured walls with colourful, varied decor that takes up around 50-80% of available wall space. These conditions will minimise distractions but also ensure that their surroundings intellectually stimulate students.

Primary School Classrooms: Themes & Inspiration

Secondary School Classrooms: What Teachers Need to Know About Classroom Interior Design

  1. Because secondary school and high school students tend to move to different classrooms for each lesson, it’s a lot easier to provide spaces that cater to different learning modes.
  2. Secondary school students are less distracted by complex displays than primary school students. Therefore, highly informative displays designed to challenge students are a great idea.
  3. During secondary school, students start working on longer projects and bigger pieces of work. Use displays to showcase exemplary pieces of work, a 3-in-1 way of personalising the learning space, building self-worth and motivating students.

Secondary School Classrooms: Themes & Inspiration

Keywords: High school classroom decor, Classroom decor themes

Classroom Interior Design & COVID-19: How to Adapt Your Classroom Decoration

Classroom design has been challenged by the outbreak of the pandemic and have challenged teachers and interior designers to think more creatively about space. If your school is following social distancing measures, here are some ideas and advice on how to maintain an effective learning environment:


What are the main principles of classroom interior design?

  1. Flexible learning spaces
  2. Personalised learning environment
  3. Intermediate complexity of classroom decor
  4. Intermediate variation of colour

How should I decorate my primary school classroom to engage students?

Primary school students will benefit from a highly personalised classroom environment. Studies suggest that this ownership helps them to build identity and self-worth.

What’s the best interior design for secondary school students?

Secondary school students benefit from complex, colourful, challenging displays on a plain background. Since high school students are likely to move to a different room for each lesson, different classrooms can function as areas for different learning modes.

How should I decorate my classroom during COVID-19?

This depends on exactly what kind of measures your school is taking during the pandemic.

If students have restricted movement within the classroom, consider updating your classroom decor with bigger font sizes, or replicating educational material around the room.

If students are confined to one classroom, this is a great opportunity to personalise the classroom and update the decor to ensure that your students stay motivated to learn.

How much decoration is too much? Will too much decoration distract my students?

Studies suggest that too much decoration can distract primary school students. However, going for a minimalist look isn’t a good idea either, as this will prove a boring, unstimulating environment for pupils.

Instead, find key triggers of distraction, remove them, and replace with educational or motivational content that encourages students to get back to work. Secondary school students are less distracted by complex classroom decor and may even benefit from the variety, especially if confined to one classroom during COVID-19.

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