IPACA Student Engagement in School Design

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IPACA students IPACA (Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy) is currently undertaking a £20m rebuild of its school facilities to create an ‘all- through’ academy serving students from reception to sixth form on its new campus at Maritime House.

Staff and learners   are looking forward to moving into the new facilities for the Autumn of 2016 and Nova Co-Design have been part of the core design team   throughout the process .IPACA has a strong and inclusive vision for learning that has been central to establish the key educational design drivers that have shaped the remodelling of this Ministry of Defence building on Portland.

A key design driver for the new building has been the organisation of IPACA into a “school within a school” model of learning and teaching. All learners joining IPACA will be part of one of the four “school” learning communities based upon the existing House system. This will allow learners and their families to be better known and supported   throughout their time at IPACA .It will develop a more personalised learning experience for learners and support transition and progression through this 3 to 19 Academy.

Nova Co-design have been working with IPACA staff and learners to design and develop the new environments for learning that are being developed at IPACA to develop and facilitate new approaches to learning and teaching.

IPACA was the first 1:1 Google Chrome Book School within the UK, providing all learners with access to wireless technology to support their studies and extending learning throughout the varied spaces within school environment.

For more information on the technology approach see the video at:


The pedagogy and the design and use of a digitally enabled learning environment have been a focus for Nova Co-Design work. The design of new  spaces create opportunities for learners and staff  to work collaboratively across the curriculum in  the new building and  provide  spaces, furniture and equipment to support this.

Nova Co-Design is at the forefront of pushing the development of space around the learner and learning activity. As part of our commitment we undertake to involve staff and learners in the decision making process to ensure to ensure that they are engaged and inform the use and design of their learning spaces. Working in this way we can ensure that everyone is   familiar with the set up and configuration from setting to setting for presentation, group work and private learning.

As a  part of our  engagement process at IPACA we undertook staff and learner workshops across a couple of days in April 2015 to draw out learning preferences in order to equip a trial space within the existing school facility in order to develop a transition plan for new learning practices.

Groups of learners from the current Primary Phases at Southwell and Osprey Quay worked with our team to explore a range of images for various learning scenarios:

  1. Getting together
  2. Learning environments
  3. Working in groups
  4. Somewhere to go
  5. Something to work on
  6. Patterns and colours

In total 76 year 5 learners were involved working in groups of five or six. They were first asked to rate their preferences with coloured stars for like and dislike. Following these responses further comments were recorded on post-it notes to give their reasoning behind their choices. Finally the groups elected a spokesperson to present their views to the wider group.

What was striking was the correlation in preferences across the groups with clear well articulated views on why they would choose certain spaces for learning activities.

Summary of findings:

  1. Getting together

Learners preferred formal clearly organised spaces with a hierarchy of learner and teacher positions. There were comments that the students did not like large groups or crowds and that the organised space made them feel safer.

  1. In the classroom and more open environments

Students did not like bright, wide open spaces with little definition. But they also did not like regular groups of desks laid out in blocks. Ordinary classroom spaces were thought of as plain and uninspiring. The preference emerged for spaces within spaces where they could go in two’s or three’s.

  1. Working in groups

Students had very mixed views with no clear preferences on how they would like to work together in small groups. They did express their likes for exciting and different seating types that could bring learners together in different ways.

  1. Somewhere to go

Students showed a strong desire for small intimate spaces to work by themselves or in pairs. Small spaces in which they could curl up or climb in to were a big hit.

  1. Something to work on

Students had a preference for writable desk surfaces and round desks with less interest in vertical whiteboard surfaces. They were not that keen on working on the floor but liked seats, either stools or chairs.

  1. Patterns and colours

Students liked darker spaces with mood lighting and curvilinear elements. They did not like orange coloured furniture or hard angular elements or bright spaces. There was a desire for patterned wall finishes, timber finishes and organic natural elements.

Summary of Findings

The findings were not as necessarily expected from the group but some clear pointers came though. Students liked to be able to find somewhere safe within a space and the more students that would come together the more formal space should be. In a more confined class environment then students liked differentiation of space where they could make choices with varied and not plain settings. Students were clear that they wanted to be comfortable when undertaking work activities. Rounded surfaces and amorphous shapes were preferred over angular elements.

For more detailed information on the research and findings contact Terry White or Daniel Plunkett at info@novacodesign.com.

Link to YouTube video of student sessions:


rings order mood surface

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