Posted: 21 September, 2021

Biophilic Classroom: RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

Achievements, Blog, In the Press, Junior School, News, Pastoral, Senior School, Sixth Form

Putney High School GDST has been awarded a Gold Medal for its Biophilic Classroom at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The school showcased its ground-breaking research into the impact of plants and nature on student wellbeing.

Putney High School’s ‘Breathe’ campaign, of which the biophilic classroom is a part, shows how a few simple steps can have a significant impact on both wellbeing and the ability to learn.

Headmistress Suzie Longstaff, with research and design by RCZM Architects Clare and Richard Bowman, and many keen botanists and green fingered students, embarked on a mission to ‘bring the outside in’ to improve the learning environment and encourage restorative benefits such as wellbeing and increased focus.

The project began with a few plants in the Sixth Form Centre but is now spreading into other areas, including the libraries, with the Junior School Reception classrooms the latest to undergo a green transformation over the summer.

It’s not rocket science but we did get it from NASA

It stems from original research in which a Maths classroom was modified with an extensive array of indoor plants, an English room with a full-size photographic wall mural of a woodland, and a third, a Psychology classroom, was left unchanged. All three were monitored for air quality and atmosphere and observed for concentration levels and the wellbeing of the staff and students that spent time in them.

Sensors complemented research into NASA’s Clean Air Study (1989) and looked at how much the plants in the classroom contributed to improving air quality. Students and staff monitored temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels, along with indoor air quality, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. Within a month the school saw air quality improve by 10 per cent in rooms with plants.

Not only had the plants measurably enriched the brain boosting oxygen for staff and students, they had also had a significant effect on behaviour and psychological wellbeing. Feedback from students and staff was overwhelmingly positive with 78 per cent of students reportedly “feeling healthier”, and not only did they feel better, they said they “loved working in the classrooms” and felt a real impact on their ability to concentrate in lessons.

In effect, we took our Sixth Form Futures Hub on tour.

Putney’s learning journey has been considerable, experimenting with a choice of plants based on their ability to remove chemical vapours, ease of growth and maintenance, resistance to insect infestation and ability to increase humidity.

Top performers included the moth orchid, spider plant, snake plant, heart-leaf philodendron, anthurium, peace lily, dragon tree and areca palm.

In the Discovery Zone of the RHS Show at Chelsea, the school showcased how relatively small and inexpensive changes can make a big difference. It’s a simple but effective concept of introducing one plant per child, and they hope that through the Chelsea Flower Show they will be able to reach out to encourage other schools to do the same.

Head Suzie Longstaff said:

“In effect, we took our Sixth Form Futures Hub on tour. The plants at Chelsea were the ones that have been around school, and will go back into classrooms afterwards.

When we embarked on this project, with a handful of plants, we little appreciated the impact it might have. Biophilia and sustainability are now at the heart of our thinking as we work with students to continue to look at how we can improve wellbeing and the environment.

Our new Athena Centre, for Science, Music, Drama and Debating has been designed with these sustainable principles at its core.

It’s not rocket science but we did get it from NASA.”


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