In the first decade of the 21st century, the UK experienced an unprecedented level of investment in its school estate. In Scotland, which has its own devolved parliament, over 300 new schools were built or substantially refurbished between 2002 and 2009 at a cost of approximately £5 billion. The majority of this investment has been focused on secondary schools (12-17 years of age). This presentation will focus on a longitudinal study that we conducted to investigate the impact of new secondary school buildings on students and staff.

The expectations for these school buildings are more varied and challenging than ever; as well as offering an environment that supports learning and teaching, the schools should offer an environment that “…encourages pupils’ personal and social development, and gives every child and young person the best possible start in life, irrespective of background, disability or additional support needs” (Children in Scotland 2003).

At the same time however, the general view expressed by many stakeholders is that the new schools that have so far been built are a disappointment. For example, a report by the main teaching Union in Scotland highlighted “major problems with overheating and very poor ventilation” (EIS, 2008) whilst members of Architecture and Design Scotland (A+DS), the government body for the built environment, have claimed that “most schools are sick and unfit for purpose” and that many schools suffered from “catastrophically poor design that would blight the lives of those who learn in them”.

One of the major challenges when seeking to resolve this debate on new school buildings (in the UK?) is the lack of an empirical evidence base on the relationship between school buildings and their users. However, the recent school building programme in Scotland provides a ‘real-world’ opportunity for objective, empirical, research that investigates how new school buildings impact on students and staff. This opportunity combined with the paucity of research on school environments was the primary motivation for the seven year study that we conducted.

This study collected data from staff and students at six secondary schools in Central Scotland that were part of a rebuilding programme. Data was collected at four different points in time: before any construction work took place, during the construction process, one year after the schools had been completed and again four years after the new schools had been completed. The student data consisted of measures of behaviour, motivation, self-esteem and perceptions of the school environment whilst the staff data consisted of measures of behaviour, self-esteem, work self-perceptions, job satisfaction and perceptions of the school environment.

The presentation will focus primarily on the data from the final phase of data collection i.e. four years after the new schools had been completed. The findings will be discussed in terms of whether the positive impact of new school buildings on educational outcomes endures long after the new schools have been built.