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Schools have become entrenched in the pursuit of school improvement, like with many organizations and sporting teams. However, is the focus of improvement too narrow? British Cycling looked at a range of aspects in its pursuit of excellence and worked to incrementally improve each aspect studying closely how different factors affected performance. ‘aggregation of marginal gains’.  They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tires.


But Brailsford and his team didn’t stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere… Improving everything.


So in pursuit of educational excellence are we focusing to narrowly of the aspects we feel will lead to whole school improvement. – Do we need to focus more closely on the wellbeing of our coaches and then more widely on the needs of our pupils. If our FSM pupil performance suffers because of sleep deprivation why aren’t we using PDG to target this, if diet and nutrition affect concentration why is more work not focused in this way? Why is every school not engaged in identifying and sharing the marginal gains that could change the face of education?


The focus of our school is to identify improvement in resourcing (physical kit), improving the skill, knowledge and wellbeing of our staff, improving the school environment (tables, chairs, light and sound), improving the opportunities and curriculum relevance for our children.


STUDY ONE: Lighting in schools


In a study with 84 pupils (grade 3, age 7 to 8) separated in to four classrooms, the oral reading fluency was measured for two kinds of light conditions. Standard lighting which consisted of a 500lx illuminance level and 3,500K (warm white) colour temperature compared to a lighting optimized for focus tasks which consisted of a 1,000lx illuminance level and 6,500K (cold white) colour temperature. The influence of daylight was reduced due to small or blocked windows and drawn blinds. The score for ORF was assessed at the beginning (September), the middle (January) and the completion (May) of the study. 


The intervention in the experimental groups took place during all focus tasks where the pupil had to read something. Children in the experimental group, with the optimized lighting, started with a lower score (assessed before the intervention) and ended with a significant higher score (assessed after the intervention) in ORF compared to the children within the control group. The assessment itself took place under standard lighting for all children. Furthermore, the motivation was evaluated. Even though, there have been no significant findings for motivation, there is a positive upwards trend for motivation under the optimized lighting, while the trend for motivation under standard lighting declined during the school year.


Beside the short-term effects of light on different academic tasks, a long-term effect is also measureable that shows how blue enriched light during the morning hours in school improve different academic requirements. In a study with 58 High school students, the difference of a standard lighting (control) versus blue enriched lighting (test group) was measured for short and long-term effects. Vertical illuminance levels were measured for the control with 300 lx and 3,000 K / 3,500 K colour temperature and for the test group with 300 lx and 5,500 K colour temperature. 


The study design consisted of a pre/post measurement with an intervention phase in-between the measurements with standard or blue enriched lighting. Speed of cognitive processing, concentration performance, and inaccuracy has been measured. Pre-test took place for all groups under standard lighting. Post-test was under standard or acute blue enriched lighting respectively for the intervention phase with standard or blue enriched lighting period. With respect to concentration and performance, acute blue enriched lighting after long-term standard lighting and also long-term blue enriched lighting and standard and acute blue enriched lighting showed significant differences compared to standard lighting. For inaccuracy, long-term blue enriched lightings showed significant differences compared to standard lighting. Memory effects have not been measured, but it has to be assumed that due to higher concentration levels there might be a positive effect on memory. Nevertheless, this study has shown that there are already beneficial long-term effects due to improved lighting solutions.