A new report by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), The Future of Australian Education: Sustainable Places for Learning, outlines up-to-date research and case studies which can help Australian schools invest in better buildings and achieve better learning outcomes.

The GBCA said the report offers a possible solution to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council’s recent report detailing the performance of the country’s educational system.

“The report is a reminder that ‘where’ students learn is just as important as ‘what’ they learn and ‘who’ teaches them,” the GBCA said.

Romilly Madew

GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew.

The COAG report, Education in Australia 2012: Five years of performance, found that while students in Australian primary schools have improved in some areas, secondary school attendance has decreased and there has been little improvement in reading and numeracy.

According to that report, reducing the educational disadvantage experienced by Indigenous young people, young people from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds and from rural or remote places remains a challenge.

The GBCA said research showing that eco-friendly buildings produce more productive workers than less sustainable buildings provides a clear path for the country as it seeks to improve its educational performance.

“Just as investing in quality teaching and quality resources is essential, so too is investing in quality learning environments,” GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew said. “Many employers are reporting significant increases in productivity and worker retention, decreases in absenteeism and large reductions in operational costs after their move to a Green Star building.”

“So, if we know that office space that provides light and fresh air improves performance, why are we satisfied for our children to learn in school environments that are too cold in winter, too hot in summer, badly lit and poorly ventilated?” she said.

The future of Australian education: Sustainable places for learning aims to help governments, architects and the education sector find ways of designing schools that will help improve student achievement.

The Peregian Springs State School in Peregian Spring, Queensland was named Australia’s first Green Star Education Design v1 primary school in 2011.

The report suggests that access to daylight and views enhances students’ performance, high indoor air quality improves health and concentration, improved acoustics boost learning potential, and comfortable indoor temperatures increase occupant satisfaction.

It says good lighting and ventilation can deliver a 41.5 per cent improvement in the health of students and teachers and a 25 per cent improvement on test scores; students with access to good daylight in their classrooms progress 20 per cent faster in maths and 26 per cent faster in reading; and the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress by as much as 25 per cent.

“Australia has more than 9,500 schools around the country, and our goal is for students and teachers in each and every school to have access to sustainable places for learning, and for all students and teachers to reap the benefits of healthy, productive, efficient education facilities,” Madew said.

Bay View State School

Bay View State School in Queensland. Water tanks, solar panels and clever design encourage staff and students to use less electricity and water.

“This report for COAG confirms that not all our students are gaining the quality education they deserve. One of the solutions is to invest in quality buildings that save taxpayer dollars. We call on governments, the education sector, industry and the broader community to commit to working together to achieve this. The result will be better outcomes for our students, our teachers, our nation and our planet.”

The GBCA says green schools not only deliver better outcomes for students, they can also improve the health and comfort of teachers, who spend up to 90 per cent of their working day indoors. Teachers can benefit significantly from buildings that are designed to provide natural daylight, fresh air and access to external views.

“We hope that The future of Australian education – Sustainable places for learning sparks a new conversation about how high-performance green schools can deliver high-performance students,” Madew said.