Hayball and Queensland’s Department of Education has created a blueprint for best practice alternative learning settings known as FlexiSpaces.

According to Queensland Department of Education, in response to the challenge of offering optimal educational experiences for young people, the Queensland Department of Education commissioned Hayball to develop evidence-based, best-practice guidelines to enable responsive learning environments.

These learning spaces can meet the needs of disengaged students, whilst allowing them to remain at mainstream schools.

The Department of Education’s Executive Director of Youth Engagement, Dr Sharon Mullins says, “All the research tells us that while most young people thrive in mainstream school settings, there are some young people who do not.”

“Typically, such students might attend an alternative learning setting located off-site from their school.”

“FlexiSpaces embody the principle of inclusion with these spaces located centrally within the school to ensure students maintain access to the whole school.”

The design principles developed by Hayball were tested through the design and construction of the two trial sites, one at Mabel Park State High School and the other at Glenmore State High School in Queensland.

The trial demonstrated that high-quality infrastructure plays an important role in facilitating student inclusion, high-quality instruction, and reduces student disengagement.

Hayball Principal, Graham Legerton, says the FlexiSpace trial was a chance to develop deeply considered learning environments to support children who are often faced with challenging personal circumstances.

“Bringing together the collective knowledge of so many specialists – specialist education researchers, psychologists, school principals, teachers, and indigenous experts ­made this a fascinating and worthwhile project to be involved with.”

Research by school designer, education facility planner, researcher and educator, Peter  Lippman, has  found that a sense of crowding can reinforce anxieties, constrain the choreography of the space, and limit opportunities for students to move, engage and share with one another.

“At the FlexiSpace trial sites, we created spaces for different types of learning including contemplative reading nooks, traditional didactic-style learning settings, group learning settings, and a central ‘family style’ kitchen to promote group discussions and informal learning,” Liza explains.

As well as internal learning quality, the ability for students to move to external landscape areas to ‘chill out’ is a common thread identified in contemporary research.

Dr Esther Sternberg, an immunologist at the National Institute of Mental Health who specialises in the connection between physical environments and wellbeing, has noted the direct connection between improved health and exposure to external landscapes and views of nature.

“The key to trialling these spaces was to determine if a fit-for-purpose learning environment, located on-site at a student’s school would help at risk students re-engage with their education. And the results have been promising,” according to a statement by Queensland Department of Education.

The Queensland Government has invested $16.6m in the roll-out of more FlexiSpaces in Queensland over the next four years.