Getting together to improve the school environment: User consultation, participatory design and student voice

Pam Woolner*, Elaine Hall, Kate Wall, David Dennison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


This article first investigates historical trends in both the practice and the understanding of consultation, considering the often contrasting perspectives of architects and designers, compared to teachers and educationalists. Differing assumptions held by these two broad groups of professionals can lead to conflicting aims and objectives for school buildings, even where there is determination to communicate effectively and find common ground. Our exploration of this issue will centre on the potential contribution of users of the educational environment and, in particular, what happens to the student perspective. Consultation over school buildings has tended in the past to centre on educators, and so miss out direct involvement of students (Woolner et al., 2005). However, there is increasing conviction that children should participate in decision-making (Burke and Grosvenor, 2003; Clark et al., 2003), including about school-design (DfES, 2002), and methods are being developed to do this (Wall and Higgins, 2006). The historical analysis will bring us to a point where, using the example of one school, the consultation procedure in practice can be reflected on. This will form the second element of the article, exploring consultation within the modern context of participatory school design and student voice. The experiences of a school undergoing redesign of a classroom space will be discussed in light of the dichotomy previously established, the perspective of architecture in contrast to that of education. The role of the child's view in influencing design solutions will be considered, together with the consequences for teaching and learning, consultation procedures and the re-design of school buildings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-248
Number of pages16
JournalImproving Schools
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2007
Externally publishedYes


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