Liz Peck of LPA Lighting sets out the changes in the Society of Light and Lighting’s revised guide to lighting for education – the first in 20 years

The Society of Light and Lighting (SLL) recently published a new version of its Lighting Guide 5: Lighting for Education. Much has changed since the last edition was printed in 1991 – not just the technologies available, but knowledge about the human psyche, changes in learning methods and the use of teaching spaces.

We now know lighting can affect our mood and performance, and in places of learning these are two of the most important human factors in the successful development of students, irrespective of age or ability. Whether students are young or old, in a primary school classroom or a professional lecture theatre, the quality of light in the learning environment will directly affect our learning experience and our motivation to learn.

If we cannot see clearly what is written on the board, identify colours accurately, or read the facial expression and body language of our teacher, then our learning and our experience will fail to meet our needs. More so now than ever, we have to create stimulating and sustainable learning environments.

Better understanding

Over the past decade, better understanding of learning and changes in teaching methods, plus the increased demand for sustainable building design, has fostered new ideas for educational buildings that have become stimulating and adaptable places for children and adults to learn. But remember that even the so-called standard classroom has for some time been used for more than one teaching method and has rarely been limited to one subject or even age group.

Not only do modern learning spaces have to be flexible enough to suit different activities – perhaps by merging spaces together for specific functions such as exams – teaching experts are also advocating new methods of interactive learning, with multi-disciplinary spaces that can cater for two or three classes and many teaching staff.

Flexible spaces

So we may see even more flexible learning spaces in the future, with greater demand for multi-use spaces to reflect increased community use. A range of different users will participate in a range of activities.

The designers of these spaces recognise the benefits to teachers and students if they can adapt the space for the best learning style and interaction. Each learning and teaching method will create different lighting needs for the space.

Readers of the SLL guide will find references to cylindrical illuminance and the modelling index. It has been recognised that, for both teachers and students, the modelling of faces is crucial to productive teaching and learning. Harsh lighting can create aggressive facial modelling that is off-putting to younger students. Equally, if a teacher cannot readily identify the facial expressions of a student, they cannot easily assess whether a student is enjoying their studies.

Lighting, both natural and artificial, is so important to the functioning of all the spaces covered by this guide that it must be considered from the outset of the planning process, irrespective of whether the project is a new build or a refurbishment. Experience shows that although much thought is often given to natural lighting, planning for artificial lighting is often left until far too late in the design process.

Natural lighting schemes in sustainable buildings have sometimes led to overheating and glare, but it is agreed that natural lighting should be used as far as possible as the primary light source in all teaching environments. There will be exceptions where daylight needs to be excluded, but most cases simple and functional control of daylight will do.

Specific considerations

The guide outlines detailed design objectives and considerations for each space in educational buildings. It also discusses matters other than the choice of lighting equipment and its positioning; explaining why the decoration and finishes of such rooms, the sightlines, the positioning of lighting controls and doors all need to be taken into account. There are also more specific considerations: vehicle access for demonstration areas in lecture theatres and the position of bookshelves in libraries.

Each application section discusses the visual needs of the people in the space, both teacher and pupil, and the lighting starts with daylight, examining not just the benefits of a daylit space, but also the need to be able to control the daylight to reduce ambient light or to protect students from glare. For most educational buildings, the fenestration will already be fixed, but the guide nevertheless highlights the role daylight can play in enhancing the learning experience.

Take controls

As you would expect, advice on lighting controls is a big part of the advice for each application. It covers not just the technologies available but the suitability for the space, complementing the guidance on lighting layouts, illuminance levels and room surface finishes. Together, this provides an in-depth analysis of the way in which each space should be treated to maximise the effectiveness of the lighting for teachers and students.

Building on the role of lighting controls are energy targets from EN12464:1, based on LENI (the lighting energy numeric indicator). Widely accepted as the best metric to evaluate energy use for lighting, this sets benchmark figures and compliance targets in line with the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive. These targets will generate design-led solutions, tailored to the individual building.

Look to the future

Educational spaces need to be designed for present and future learning, adaptive teaching styles and a variety of organisations; a difficult task given a building may last for over forty years. But our learning spaces must be suitable, safe and secure places in which to work, as well as stimulating and inclusive for all students to learn.

Head teachers and Governors will find the guide useful in assessing their existing building stock whilst architects and designers can draw inspiration from recent exemplar buildings, designs that positively influence the behaviour of students and staff and those that cater for extended learning in the community and apply lighting for learning now and for the future.

LG5 (ISBN 978-1-906846-17-6) is available online from, priced at £32 to SLL and Cibse members, £64 to non-members.


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