Maximising purpose in outdoor educational spaces

Maximising purpose in outdoor educational spaces

Well-designed, high-quality outdoor spaces within school, college, and university grounds hold equal significance to their indoor counterparts in enhancing the overall educational journey, fostering positivity, engagement, and fulfilment. But what are the key considerations when crafting outdoor spaces that optimise attractiveness, usability, safety, and sustainability?

One of the main factors is how much outdoor space is available and how it interfaces with the buildings. Whilst the amount of outdoor space may vary across educational sites, the diverse range of products and systems offered by Bailey Street Furniture Group (BSFG) ensures that nearly every type of school, college, or university can enrich their outdoor environments.

Any strategy to improve external areas will benefit students, teachers and staff, not least from a health and well-being perspective. Numerous studies from around the world have concluded that our ability to learn and develop is boosted when we have the opportunity to break out from the confines of classrooms from time to time - so we must do everything possible to facilitate this in external areas.

Creating an outdoor environment to support SEN students

Experiencing the outdoors can be particularly important to children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). For example, giving children with SEN the opportunity to spend more time outdoors can be therapeutic and stimulating, and help them learn essential life skills, develop confidence and improve behaviour.

There are several ways in which outdoor spaces can be designed to support education for SEN students including by incorporating sensory shelters, which provide a retreat on the campus to accommodate students' social and emotional needs and transparent traverse climbing walls. These are designed to challenge and enhance children’s physical and problem-solving skills from a young age, whilst being easy to supervise and safe.

Traverse wall at Greenvale SEN school

In a project at Greenvale School in Lewisham, the AMV Playgrounds division of BSFG supplied specially designed sensory shelters and playground obstacles to support its schooling of secondary-aged students with severe learning difficulties. This equipment helped the school provide a safe, inclusive, and stimulating learning environment to support the unique needs of its students.

Boosting play in early years education

Play provision is crucial in primary schools as such activities are important for young children to develop social skills and cognitive function, but how can the right kind of play facilities be created, especially where space is limited or safety and security could be an issue?

The key is to take advantage of the versatility and durability offered by the early years outdoor playground furniture options and Multi Use Games Areas (MUGAs) within the BSFG range. In particular, AMV Playgrounds offers everything from activity panels, musical instruments and traverse climbing walls to multi-sport goal units and MUGAs which can accommodate six sports in a single facility.

MUGAs can be especially beneficial because they provide students with dedicated spaces to participate in a variety of sports and recreational activities. Doing so helps young people to foster teamwork skills, develop proficiency in different sports and understand healthy competition.

Multi Use Games Area - Merton Bank primary School St Helens

BSFG has a wealth of expertise in the design and installation of MUGAs tailored to the available space and specific requirements. This was demonstrated in a project at Merton Bank Primary School in St Helens. Here, the AMV Playgrounds team helped the school meet its goal to make changes to teaching and the general playground organisation, initially as a response to the pandemic, but actually to deliver long-term benefits.

Whilst MUGAs represent one of the most popular options for schools looking to create a versatile outdoor sports facility, they are by no means the only solution to enhance play and physical activity provision in schools.

Various types of playground sports and fitness equipment can be deployed as the project at St Vincent’s Catholic Primary School illustrates. Here, a different type of play area was created by AMV Playgrounds through the installation of a playground obstacle course including a swinging and rope traverse, trapeze monkey bars, a rope crossing, balance and pull-up poles, rocky split traverse walls and eco mulch safety surfacing. 

Fresh air-filled classrooms and communal areas

Any strategy to create the right outdoor environment should not be limited to play and physical activity. Outdoor spaces can easily be transformed into additional classrooms for more academic lessons too as one project by Bailey Streetscene illustrates.

At School 360, Sugar House Island Primary School, an outdoor classroom was created alongside cycle parking. The BSFG team created a bespoke design to ensure the school could maximise the use of their space which now includes a mini auditorium with tiered timber seating that is used as an outdoor classroom.

A similar approach can be used to create outdoor dining areas. Combining bespoke shelters with seating, tables and litter bins provides areas for students to eat and drink outside for the vast majority of the year, not just at the height of summer. A great example of this is the canopy provided by AMV Playgrounds at Hungerhill School.

Providing shelter through the installation of canopies is, in fact, an excellent way to connect educational buildings and extend the space available for students to congregate and play. The BSFG team offers a hugely versatile range of canopies which can be used for numerous purposes, some of which have already been highlighted, offering protection from the elements while allowing outdoor space utilisation to be maximised.

One example of this was the project completed by Bailey Streetscene at Lymington Fields School. Here, a Moreton Canopy was chosen to provide an extensive canopy to surround a large external section of the lower school building.

Bringing it all together

In addition to providing facilities for specific activities to take place, it is also crucially important to ensure the whole outdoor environment on campus is designed in a way that encourages students to spend more time outside. This can be achieved by designing areas to incorporate various outdoor furniture products, shelters or canopies that ensure students feel safe, secure and comfortable in their surroundings.

Consider how entrances and pick-up/drop-off points at schools, colleges and universities can be enhanced with practical street furniture elements which are necessary in spaces where people will typically wait around or meet. Litter bins, seating and shelters are important in these areas, but so too are features capable of enhancing visual appeal such as planters – all of which can look consistent when complementary styles and materials are chosen as Bailey Streetscene’s project at Channing Junior School shows.

These kinds of street furniture elements are, in fact, essential across the whole campus, particularly along footpaths, in courtyards and in green spaces. By giving students and staff the facilities to spend more time outdoors, they have more opportunities to connect with nature which is proven to be of benefit from a well-being perspective.

Purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) sites can benefit from a carefully designed outdoor masterplan too. The additional residential dimension to these buildings makes the case for pleasant, attractive outdoor spaces even more compelling and many developers give this a high priority as one recent Artform Urban project in Nottingham illustrates.

At Ten Traffic Street, the BSFG team supported the developer and landscape architects to incorporate premium quality planters, seating and benches, as well as other features such as a drinking fountain, into spaces which give students the areas they need to relax, socialise, exercise and work outside. Similar goals were met by Bailey Streetscene’s team at the St Marks Student Village in Lincoln, which also included a timber and steel pergola and cycle parking.

Encouraging cycle use

A final outdoor space design consideration is cycle parking. Cycling is a more sustainable form of transport for students, but it must be an option that is viable from a security and convenience perspective. Hence why it is important to incorporate cycle parking facilities on school, university, and college campuses.

BSFG’s range of cycle parking solutions covers everything from bike racks and shelters to comprehensive storage systems, which can be bespoke designed for the creation of facilities that help to promote cycling while enhancing campus accessibility and sustainability.

One example of how this can look on campus is the project completed by BSFG’s Cyclepods division at Brighton and Sussex University. Here, 60 Cyclepod units were installed across a new campus providing secure parking for 480 bicycles in a tough and robust solution. They offered an additional sustainability benefit as each pod is made using recyclable material, which helped to meet the University’s ecological requirements.

Find out more about the solutions available to maximise the potential of outdoor spaces on educational sites at and