Inspiring Learning Spaces

Learn how the conventional classroom is being reimagined, with learners at the heart of the process, into a space that boosts learners’ confidence and engagement.

A wooden structure inside a school where primary school pupils sit on the floor as part of a lesson.

This publication and accompanying case studies bring together lessons learned from the Inspiring Learning Spaces (ILS) initiative for those in the learning and estates community across Scotland.

Whether you are in a position to make a large change or a small one, it invites you to pause for a moment and imagine new and innovative ways of learning.

We worked with Scottish Futures Trust, who administered the initiative, to capture learning on the early impacts of the ILS projects based on interviews with project leads. 

What this publication covers

Case studies

Learning from 20 projects involved in the ILS initiative is captured below in a series of mini case studies.

Resource: Inspiring Learning Spaces

Download the full publication to read about the project in more depth and see more images.

About the ILS initiative

Education in Scotland is going through a transformation. The Curriculum for Excellence puts the learner at the centre and learning spaces are being reimagined.

The conventional classroom is transforming into a flexible space which enables individual, collaborative and interdisciplinary working and gives the learner more choice in how they learn. 

The Scottish Government made £5 million available in 2014 to encourage local authorities to imagine learning spaces differently. 

The ILS initiative encouraged applicants to think creatively and find low-cost, high-impact interventions.

Three categories of inspiring learning space

From an old home economics lab becoming a state-of-the-art restaurant kitchen, to a storeroom turning into a skills academy for the construction industry, most of the ILS initiative's projects fell into three categories:

A close up on a pair of hands slicing tomatoes and bread on a cutting board. There is professional kitchen equipment on the background.

Vocational training facilities 

A mini construction site to teach engineering skills or a fully fitted restaurant kitchen for hospitality training creates a new kind of space for teaching and learning.  

Schools reported how young people responded to this change with improved attendance, growing confidence and an increased willingness to participate. 

Learners took on more responsibility, getting themselves ready for ‘work’ each morning, or learning business skills by running a cafe within the school. 

Staff from local businesses – from chefs to electricians – became involved as consultants and mentors, teaching courses themselves and providing work placements for learners.  

Image credit: Louis Hansel on Unsplash

A wooden tree with seating underneath in the middle of a circulation area in a school with pupils walking through the space

Flexible learning spaces 

Many schools used ILS funding to experiment with new kinds of learning situations, whether by adapting existing classrooms or working with experts to design new spaces.  

Teachers and learners were involved from the beginning, contributing ideas, and working with specialists to create spaces that suited their needs. This built confidence, enthusiasm, and a sense of ownership.  

Lesson plans were adapted to make it easier for learners to work collaboratively and engage in learning based around exploration and investigation.  

Teachers found their role changing: they were teaching less from the front and working more to facilitate learning.  

In Midlothian primary schools, for example, the resulting spaces are agile and easily adapted for different tasks and requirements. Learners can take control of their own learning. 

Image credit: Martin Shields

A person with long hair writing on a notepad in front of a laptop screen.

Digital and virtual classrooms

Several schools used ILS funding to enhance and expand their use of digital technology, from teaching classes online to purchasing devices for learners to use.  

Bringing digital resources into the classroom led to a greater sense of learner engagement, an increase in peer-to-peer learning and in collaboration between learners and teachers. 

Schools in remote areas were early adopters of e-schooling, enabling equal access to specialised subjects. 

But even urban schools are now exploring the potential of the virtual classroom to offer equal access to a broader range of subjects, and to support adult and community learning. 

The schools involved emphasise that the use of digital technology is not a replacement for face-to-face learning; meeting the teacher in person before the learning began was important. 

Image credit: J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

Key lessons and early impacts  

The projects were very different in size and scale, ambition, and intended educational outcomes. As can be expected in an innovation initiative, some aspects were more successful than others.  

From those projects able to report early results, there were both expected and unexpected benefits. In some cases, the ILS proved transformative for learners, teachers, and the wider school community. 

These are just a few of the key lessons and early impacts: 

  • Involving learners at the planning and development stages of an ILS project developed their confidence and gave them a sense of pride and ownership. 

  • High quality spaces that take account of learning needs make learners and teachers feel valued and invested in. Projects report more engagement and attendance, and little or no vandalism. 

  • A clear vision of what success looks like for learners, coupled with strong leadership and a clear project management approach, helped to overcome delivery challenges. 

  • Gaining the support of teachers is crucial: presenting evidence about potential benefits, listening to concerns, and giving them the skills and confidence to make the most of the new environment. 

Reflections for making changes 

Reflecting on the early impacts of ILS and drawing on experience and research, a group of educationalists helped identify the following themes to support others interested in making changes: 

  • Leading change: A clear, shared vision of what education needs to look like to support better outcomes for learners and teachers needs strong leadership and continuous conversation. 

  • Test learning approaches: Small-scale interventions can be used to test new practices and gather evidence. It is important to understand how each learner learns: there is no ‘one size fits all’.  

  • Collect evidence: Evaluate small-scale interventions having defined what you regard as indicators of success. 

  • Support teachers: Build opportunities for teachers to lead the change in practice through paired teaching, mentoring, group practice, observation and refection. 

  • Listen to learners: Include learners as partners in shaping change and evaluating the impacts.  

  • Encourage problem-solving: Experience of different learning situations builds skills in creativity, critical thinking, negotiation, conflict resolution and different ways of working. 

  • Nurture parity of esteem: Build spaces and experiences which recognise different learner choices and support a range of pathways for individuals to test themselves. 

  • Use technology: New spaces will bring new practice around shared space, storage, and planning of learning experiences. Technology can provide valuable resources for these, as well as new ways to engage learners and evaluate learner progress. 

Case studies: 20 inspiring learning spaces

This collection of mini case studies captures learning on the early impacts and benefits of 20 projects involved in the ILS initiative. Each was very different in size and scale, ambition, and intended educational outcomes.

Click on the projects below to learn about:

  • the aim 

  • the provider and partners 

  • the key message

  • the story

20 Inspiring Learning Spaces

Download this resource to take away the 20 inspiring learning spaces projects. This resource includes sample images from each project. 

Aim: To experiment with different approaches to learning and teaching within a flexible space.  

Provider and partners: Aberdeenshire Council, Peterhead Academy, NE Scotland College  

Key message: Learning plazas encourage collaborative learning with remarkable results for learners and teachers.  

The story:  

The team trialled a learning plaza to inform the design of new schools in the area. Four classrooms were remodelled into a modern, flexible environment.  

Teachers could explore new approaches to learning, and trial new kinds of furniture and technology. 

Learners find the space modern and inviting. It helps them stay focussed and engaged, and they feel valued and invested in. 

Aim: To extend STEM provision and complement existing training in the area.  

Provider and partners: Angus Council, Dundee & Angus College, Forster Roofing Company  

Key message: Good facilities mirroring a workplace environment can offer training in key skills to a wide range of learners.  

The story:  

A state-of-the-art training facility at the Brechin Community Campus replicates aspects of a real-work environment.  

It offers training in practical skills such as joinery, roofing and bricklaying. It caters to a wide range of careers from the trades to quantity surveying and architecture.  

The initiative has encouraged partnership with business – a local contractor who’s contributing equipment and training. 

Aim: To create pathways to careers in hospitality in an area where tourism is a major part of the economy. 

Provider and partners: Dumfries & Galloway Council, Dumfries & Galloway College  

Key message: High-quality facilities enable training in vocational skills and life skills.  

The story:  

A former home economics lab was upgraded to a state-of-the-art restaurant kitchen and fine-dining space.  

Teachers, learners, local businesses and the local college were involved in its development. The high-quality facility means learners feel invested in it and their engagement has improved.  

The facility has encouraged new ways of teaching and shown how subjects like maths and biology can be applied in a real-world context. 

Aim: To provide more training options for senior learners.  

Provider and partners: City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh College  

Key message: Underused spaces can be transformed into hubs for vocational learning.  

The story:  

Equipped with a multifunctional workshop and design studio, the space offers training within the Modern Apprenticeship framework.  

The courses are offered in partnership with Edinburgh College and are open to learners from two high schools.  

The project facilitates new ways of teaching and learning in a purpose-built environment. The school saw this as an innovative project on a scale they could deliver successfully, and others could replicate. 

Aim: To deliver qualifications and work experience to enable careers in hospitality. 

Provider and partners: East Ayrshire Council, Ayrshire College, local business partner 

Key message: The innovative space has boosted learner engagement by teaching life skills and creating pathways into further education and work.

The story:  

A former common room was developed into a hospitality training suite. It is now a successful cafe for senior learners and teachers.  

College lecturers come to school to deliver a range of qualifications. Learners are gaining business skills and presenting themselves more professionally.  

A local business partner advises on training, acts as a mentor and offers work placements. Relationships have improved between staff and senior learners as they use the cafe together. 

Aim: To offer learners a range of vocational training across the construction sector. 

Provider and partners: East Lothian Council, Edinburgh College  

Key message: Integrated spaces for vocational learning can bridge the gap between school and college and equip young people for the workplace.  

The story:  

Good construction workers are needed across East Lothian for the area to meet its extensive growth plans. 

A former day centre was developed into a flexible training space offering construction Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) and foundation apprenticeships.  

Learners are engaged and enjoy the new educational environment. Local business partners provide workshops in interviews and CV writing.  

The centre, and construction-related professions, were promoted to learners, parents and teachers. The enrolment rate rose more than fivefold as a result. 

Aim: To design a space that facilitates shared learning, teaching and social interaction.  

Provider: East Renfrewshire Council  

Key message: Good design can facilitate inter-faith interaction while fostering respect, collaboration and understanding.  

The story:  

The new Faith Schools’ Joint Campus brings together Jewish and Catholic primary schools on the same site, the first project of its kind in Scotland.  

Inspiring Learning Spaces funding was used to design the central atrium space, which is shared between the two schools as a social and teaching space.  

Workshops were held involving learners, teachers, faith leaders and community representatives. Learners from both schools worked together in workshops to develop their joint environment. 

Aim: To develop new facilities for learning in creative industry and STEM subjects.  

Providers and partners: Falkirk Council, Forth Valley College, University of the West of Scotland  

Key message: Imaginative spaces can facilitate new learning approaches and engage learners.  

The story:  

A Creative Industries Hub in Grangemouth has amplified learning opportunities in creative subjects. Through a partnership with the local college, it’s opening doors to further education or work in the creative industries. 

A combined STEM space in Larbert has increased collaborative teaching and learning and is inspiring learners.  

And in Falkirk, learners helped to design a STEM unit that has improved engagement, attendance and behaviour. 

Aim: To offer vocational subjects in the STEM agenda that learners wouldn’t otherwise have access to.  

Provider and partners: Fife Council, Fife College  

Key message: Good facilities for vocational training can change the school experience for those who enjoy hands-on learning and create pathways into further education or work.  

The story:  

A derelict school annex was converted into a training workshop focussing on engineering skills. The school partners with Fife College to provide training tailored to meet the needs of local employers.  

The facility is available to learners from all the local high schools. It will provide them with the skills needed for further education and the workplace. 

Aim: To adapt old spaces into innovative environments to explore new approaches to teaching and learning.  

Provider: Glasgow City Council  

Key message: Engaging learners in the development of learning spaces builds their confidence and ensures the spaces reflect their learning needs.  

The story: Three projects were chosen for development at Quarry Brae, John Paul II and Pollokshields primary schools. They include a health and well-being zone in the shape of the Loch Ness Monster.  

Learners and teachers were generating ideas from the start. Learners made presentations to a council committee and worked with architects on designs.  

Involving learners in the process boosted their confidence and gave them a sense of ownership. 

Aim: To extend a range of ICT activities to support the curriculum.  

Provider: Highland Council  

Key message: Digital technology has the potential to support teaching and learning in a wide range of areas and promote equity of access. 

The story:  

Highland Council used this opportunity to build on its strategy for ICT In learning strategy. More than 1,000 Chromebooks are now used in over 200 schools.  

These have been well received. Learners are well motivated and are developing confidence and skills, bringing suggestions to staff about how the technology can be used.  

The virtual school pilot has been extended to offer equity of access to a wider range of subjects. 

Aim: To explore the impacts of innovative, flexible spaces on teaching and learning.  

Provider: Midlothian Council  

Key message: Innovative spaces can have transformative effects on learning and engagement.  

The story:  

Primary school learners across the authority were involved in the design, development and decision-making process to adapt their learning spaces. It was an important exercise in learner empowerment.  

The new spaces are agile and adaptable so they can be changed for different tasks, enabling each learner to take more control of their education.  

Both teachers and learners have commented on the remarkable changes in the way learning takes place. Teachers feels more energised and relaxed, while learners feel more confident and valued. 

Aim: To offer high-quality training and development for teachers in a purpose-built environment.  

Provider: North Ayrshire Council  

Key message: Teachers benefit from continuous training and sharing good practice in an attractive and flexible environment.  

The story:  

A vacant school annex has been turned into an innovative, purpose-built facility to offer continuing professional development (CDP) for teachers.  

Two teaching rooms mimic a modern teaching environment, one based around collaborative work, the other for individual work.  

The aim is to create a pleasant environment with high-quality facilities, offer research-based training, and pilot new approaches.  

Teachers have welcomed opportunities to work collaboratively, share good practice and develop professional networks. Early evaluations show positive impacts on staff, which in turn benefit learners.

Aim: To develop four multi-purpose learning spaces to deliver training in a range of vocational skills and qualifications.  

Provider: North Lanarkshire Council  

Key message: Integrated spaces for vocational learning can bridge the gap between school and college and help provide skills for further education and work.  

The story:  

Four multi-purpose learning spaces have been created: a garage workshop, a kitchen, a polytunnel area for growing plants, and a digital lab.  

A working group of learners, teachers, commercial trainers and colleges informed the project. Training is delivered by teachers, college lecturers and industry specialists in a mini-college environment.  

It replicates aspects of the workplace and focusses on skills in short supply locally. Prior to opening, demand for places was already outstripping supply. 

Aim: To develop vocational pathways in STEM and engineering for young people across Perth and Kinross.  

Providers and partners: Perth & Kinross Council, Perth College UHI  

Key message: Integrated spaces for vocational learning can bridge the gap between school and college and help provide key skills for the workplace.  

The story:  

Facilities for training in engineering subjects have been developed in secondary schools across Perth. 

Learners will be able to visit other schools and the local college to access training and equipment to meet their individual learning choices.  

Principal teachers from the participating schools worked together to develop the programme, which aims to create skills and develop pathways into further education or work. 

Aim: To offer high-quality training for learners of all age groups in a range of practical skills.  

Providers and partners: Stirling Council, Forth Valley College, local employers  

Key message: Developing vocational skills in all learners through the mainstream curriculum provides young people with experience of the workplace. It opens up new pathways into further education work. 

The story:  

The centre, at St Modan’s High School, teaches a wide range of practical skills and qualifications, from plumbing to childcare, across all year groups. Forth Valley College and local tradespeople deliver some of the training.  

The centre is a modern, flexible space which young people are motivated to attend. It offers them insights into the workplace environment and beyond. 

Aim: To provide classroom space for a predicted temporary increase in learner numbers, without the need to build permanent structures.  

Provider: South Lanarkshire Council  

Key message: A new, re-usable, mobile classroom is a cost-effective way of meeting temporary spikes in learner numbers.  

The story:  

The authority needed an efficient and effective solution for increasing accommodation to cater for temporary spikes in learner numbers.  

The solution was a new design for a mobile classroom which could be redeployed easily as needed across the local authority.  

Learners were involved in designing the exterior to help them take ownership of the classrooms. The units are an easy and economical way of providing short-term additional capacity. 

Aim: To change the approach to STEM teaching and learning in primary schools.  

Provider and partners: West Dunbartonshire Council, Glasgow Science Centre  

Key message: An innovative and flexible learning space can facilitate new approaches to teaching and learning.  

The story:  

A STEM hub was created at St Patrick’s Primary School in collaboration with experts from Glasgow Science Centre. 

There are three distinct areas within a flexible space, with the design helping to signal how each area is used for learning and teaching.  

Learners are acquiring knowledge through exploration and discovery, working individually, in pairs or in groups. Teachers facilitate rather than direct the learning. The school reports significant improvements in learner engagement, motivation and concentration. 

Aim: To explore the impact of new spaces and digital technology on learning and teaching.  

Provider: West Lothian Council  

Key message: Innovative spaces and creative use of technology can facilitate new ways of teaching and learning.  

The story:  

At West Calder High School, three traditional classrooms were combined to create a ‘digital plaza’ to explore the best use of digital technology and open learning spaces.  

Learners and teachers helped design the space. The new environment has encouraged more collaboration between learners and teachers. Learner engagement is high.  

A virtual campus project was launched to offer greater equity of access to a wide range of subjects across a group of schools. 

Aim: To use digital technology to increase the range of subjects offered to learners in remote areas.  

Provider: Western Isles Council  

Key message: Well-facilitated e-learning is an effective tool that could be used in any area to promote equity of access. 

The story:  

The e-Sgoil (e-school) project started as an innovative solution to teacher recruitment challenges in Scotland’s islands.  

The technology used is similar to that used in video conferencing and allows lessons to be delivered remotely.  

It’s not a substitute for face-to-face teaching but provides learners with equity of access to subjects they want to study, regardless of where they live. It also improves their digital skills and enables schools to work together in new ways.

Header image credit: Martin Shields

Inspiring learning spaces toolkit

This toolkit has been developed to help schools, teachers and local authorities get the best from their learning environments. Explore how to get the best from your learning environments with a clear process and exercises designed to help you manage change effectively.


Read toolkit