KNOWLEDGE

Can better lighting improve pupils’ concentration during lessons? According to a pilot study at Epsom and Ewell High School, it can. Mark Burgess reports

The lighting industry has long argued that high quality lighting can improve concentration. But solid evidence has always been thin on the ground.

Now, a study at a Surrey secondary school could supply the proof. Epsom and Ewell High School is the first in the UK to use lighting with variable colour temperature and intensity that can be optimised for learning. Results from the pilot study appear to show that it is improving pupils’ concentration.

The SchoolVision system from Philips – a Dali controller and luminaires with a warm white T5 fluorescent lamp and two ultra-cool 17000K ActiViva lamps – was installed in two of the school’s science laboratories last September.

Teachers have been using the system’s four settings (normal, energy, focus and calm) to optimise the illumination. Now City University in London has carried out a series of standard D2 test trials (a psychometric test to measure concentration) as well as focus group research with teachers and pupils.

  • Year 7 pupils in one of the SchoolVision classrooms saw their scores on the D2 tests increase by 17 points (D2 test mean percentile score).
  • Year 7 pupils in the other SchoolVision classroom improved their scores by 40 points.
  • A control group demonstrated no improvement in concentration over the same period.

The findings echo those of a year-long study in a primary school in Hamburg, which found that pupil reading speeds increased by 35 per cent, frequency of errors fell by almost 45 per cent and restlessness was reduced by 75 per cent. A study in Amsterdam showed that pupils score on average 18 per cent higher in concentration tests with the variable lighting system.

Chief researcher Dr Efrosyni Konstantinou says: ‘Adjustable lighting that can be modified to facilitate the diverse preferences of the students is the ideal for improved learning in the classroom.

‘The benefits associated with the different settings included better concentration, increased alertness, enhanced efficiency and a calmer mood which indicate that [adjustable lighting] can be the beginning to a new way of teaching and learning’.

School principal Alex Russell is enthusiastic: ‘The results from the study speak for themselves and the feedback from pupils and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive. This is the kind of lighting solution that is needed in all schools across the country.’

 

THE BIOLOGY

The system is based on research that indicates that not only are there receptors in our eyes sensitive to the visible spectrum of light, there are also receptors that cause a biological effect on the production of the hormones melatonin and cortisol.
Melatonin makes us sleepy and relaxed, but cortisol makes us feel awake and active. This can be applied to a lighting system that helps stimulate these hormones for specific activities and time of the day.
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