Planning learning spaces

By Diana Wilkes

During their recent visit to Aotearoa, the Planning Learning Spaces team shared some of their processes and thinking with our Tārai Kura team.

Terry White and Bhavini Pandya from Planning Learning Spaces facilitated a session on ‘Planning Learning Spaces in Practice’ at the Te Huinga Kākākura Mātauranga | Evaluation Associates office on Thursday, October 13.  

1. Setting the scene

To begin the session, Terry and Bhavini reminded us of some key things:

  • Space matters!

  • “Learning is not the product of teaching, learning is the product of the activity of learners.” ~ John Holt

  • There is a growing recognition of the relationship between pedagogy and space.

  • One size no longer fits all in meeting the needs of all learners.

  • Teachers and learners need to be the creators, not consumers, of the places and spaces in which they learn.

  • Learning environments need to promote health, wellbeing and the social and emotional development of everyone in schools.

  • Research and international projects are demonstrating the learning gains related to rethinking learning spaces.

2. Contextualising their work to New Zealand

Terry and Bhavini referred to the Designing-schools-in-Aotearoa-New-Zealand-Standards (MOE, June 2022) to contextualise their approach for our Aotearoa context. The DSNZ document outlines design principles, spatial planning and technical standards for school properties in New Zealand.  It also highlights the key areas that the Ministry of Education (MOE) and schools are most interested in:

Key areas of design that the MOE and schools are interested in — Image by: Ministry of Education

The MOE team use an infographic to share the aspirations of Te Rautaki Rawa Kura – The School Property Strategy 2030 (can be downloaded here) in the document as well. This was new for many in the room!

School property in 2023 — Image by: Ministry of Education

The principles of functional, responsive and sustainable underpin the thinking. In the document this diagram is used to show the steps in their suggested design process:

The DSNZ Design Process — Image by: Ministry of Education

Terry and Bhavini draw our attention to the following parts of the design process that are outlined in this document:

  • 1.3.1 Investigate and Plan Early in the Project – Project teams must gather important information, investigate and analyse early in a project to support improved outcomes and timelines. One of the biggest lessons learned from recent school projects is the benefit of early investigation and analysis. Doing investigations and analysis late in a project can lead to costly reworking and/or poor outcomes. 
  • 1.3.2 Collaborate Widely and Early – Project teams must collaborate widely with stakeholders and consultants early and throughout a project for improved coordinated outcomes. Remember: Everyone together, discussing everything, early.
  • 1.3.3 Analyse Options – Evaluate design options before arriving at a solution. Avoid accepting a solution before investigation and option analysis have been carried out.

(Source: Designing Schools in Aotearoa New Zealand: School property design standards, 2022, p.14)

This generated conversation in the room about the importance for stakeholders to be involved in the early stages of property design to ensure responsivity, functionality and sustainability.  It was clear that a number of schools that the team is supporting have not had this opportunity, so we began to explore the creativity that can emerge from this constraint.

3. Mapping out their PLS in Practice approach

Very generously, Terry and Bhavini described their bespoke approach to supporting schools with designing their learning spaces.  They have used this with countless schools in many countries! There are six distinct workshops and six integrated themes that are woven throughout e.g pedagogy, community participation, etc.  

PLS in Practice — Image by: Courtesy of PLS

A very interesting aspect of their approach is around space ‘zoning’, and they can even render a digital version of your learning spaces so you can test different zones and FF&E placement. It is a process that is well supported, interactive and responsive to each school. 

PLS – zoning — Image by: Courtesy of PLS

In New Zealand they are working with Wesley Primary School, Te Rae o Kawharu – Grey Lynn SchoolOranga School and very recently with Nukumea Primary School.

We would like to thank Terry White, Bhavini Pandya and Doug Couch for their generosity and sharing of expertise.  We can’t wait to meet again!

To learn more about their approach or to engage with them directly, check out their website: and watch the video here: