Learning environments for education outcomes

Designing learning environments so that the physical elements of a school support the delivery of its educational vision can contribute to meeting the diverse needs of learners and overall success and wellbeing at school.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Proprietors
  • Principals and tumuaki
  • Project managers
  • Property managers
  • Researchers

This section explores the relationship between the physical spaces of schools and teaching and learning. It also offers links to other sources about making the most of the physical elements at school.


A learning environment is not just about property. It’s about the social, pedagogical, and physical elements in the whole school aligning and aiming for positive educational outcomes.

  • Social: the people in the environment and how they interact.
  • Pedagogical: the teaching and learning practises.
  • Physical: the property, technology and other resources.

When learning environments are well designed with the above elements aligned, they can contribute to success and wellbeing at school.

When it comes to the physical elements of learning environments, both indoor and outdoor spaces, it’s important that the design responds and aligns to the way teaching and learning takes place at each school.

Teaching, learning and physical environments

The National Curriculum outlines a vision of young people developing the competencies they need for study, work, and lifelong learning, so can realise their potential. While the National Curriculum provides the framework, each school is able decide how teaching and learning takes place on their site to best meet the needs of their students.

The National Curriculum – NZ Curriculum Online(external link)

It’s important that the physical design of school spaces responds and aligns to the way teaching and learning takes place at each school, which is why schools have a say in school property decisions.

When learning environments are well designed, they can contribute to success and wellbeing at school.

Setting minimum standards for quality learning environments

The Government wants all New Zealand schools to provide quality learning environments by 2030. This quality learning environments target is about the physical elements of the learning environment and how well the property is aligned to the needs of teaching and learning at each school.

We are developing a quality learning environments model with the aim of collecting the right data about school property to ensure property decisions support the best possible learning outcomes and wellbeing of everyone on a school site.

We piloted this model in 2019 to measure 3 main dimensions:

  • asset condition
  • fitness for purpose
  • operational efficiency.

The main methods of collecting data for the model were:

  • visual condition assessment and special reports
  • internal environment data loggers that collect temperature, relative humidity, CO2 (ventilation), lighting, and noise levels (acoustics)
  • a school survey focused on the usability of your current property (to replace the current ILE Assessment Tool)
  • electricity and other energy data
  • aerial and internal footage of schools via drone and 360-degree cameras to help put the data above into context.

We worked with a selection of central North Island schools to collect and monitor these elements so that we could define and set the required standards that all schools will be lifted above by 2030.

Relationship between quality learning environments and innovative learning environments

The concept of quality learning environments (QLE) is not a direct replacement for innovative learning environments (ILE).

  • ILE is a term used in New Zealand and internationally to refer to the wider ecosystem of people (social), practice (pedagogical) and physical/property.
  • QLE relate to the physical (only) learning environments.

Equally, ILE doesn’t explicitly consider or emphasise the condition or operational efficiency of property, as these concerns better reflect the building owner and bill payer perspectives, rather than student and school staff perspectives.

Where QLE and ILE overlap is in the fitness for purpose of the physical environment, both in terms of ensuring the basic building blocks of a good physical environment are taken care of (acoustics, lighting, thermal comfort and indoor air quality) and that the property is aligned with the school’s social and pedagogical dimensions.

School evaluation of physical environment

It is important that a school’s physical environments (both the buildings and the general school site) are fit for purpose. This means that they are safe, comfortable and aligned to the educational vision of the school.

As part of the 10 Year Property Plan process (10YPP), schools are required to complete the school evaluation of physical environment (SEPE). This is a questionnaire that helps evaluate how well a school’s physical environment supports its desired teaching and learning approaches.

10 Year Property Plan

SEPE replaces the innovative learning environment assessment tool, which was previously part of the 10YPP process. SEPE builds on lessons learned from the previous tool and was developed in consultation with school leaders, educational consultants and design professionals.

Results from the SEPE questionnaire will be used alongside condition assessment information to inform a school’s 10YPP and to help prioritise property projects.

10YPP steps for schools: Detailed physical assessment and specialist reports

Example of a  SEPE template [PDF, 361 KB]

If you are a school leader about to complete SEPE as part of your 10YPP, you will receive your questionnaire along with a link to a training module about SEPE via email.

You may also download the frequently asked questions to have on hand while you complete SEPE.

School evaluation of physical environment: FAQs [PDF, 143 KB]

Design standards and guidelines

These documents are written to support design teams working on school builds and upgrades but anyone involved in the design and maintenance of school buildings may find them useful.

The Designing schools in Aotearoa New Zealand standards

Designing Schools in Aotearoa New Zealand (DSNZ) is the key document among national guidelines for school property design.

DSNZ contains advice prepared by the Ministry with input from educators, architects, engineers and quantity surveyors who work closely with schools. It is designed to give design teams a clear understanding of the Ministry’s requirements and guidelines. 

Designing schools in Aotearoa New Zealand

Standards and requirements for school property design

Boards must make sure that their project consultant or contractor complies with legal requirements, Ministry design standards and best practice standards to ensure the property is safe, fit for purpose and provides long term value for money.

Standards and requirements for school property design

Designing quality learning spaces

The designing quality learning spaces (DQLS) guidelines are a set of documents focused on creating quality physical learning environments.

These guidelines help ensure that projects are compliant with the DSNZ and that the indoor environment of school buildings supports quality education. The Ministry’s DQLS guidelines currently cover acoustics, indoor air quality and thermal comfort, and lighting.

Designing quality learning spaces guidelines

Case studies, research and other sources

Find case studies, research and other sources that further explore the relationship between teaching and learning and the physical environment on our reference material for designers and schools page.

Reference material for designers and schools

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