Designing quality learning spaces

The fundamental purpose of design guidelines is to ensure that the built environment of schools supports quality education. Use this page to think about some of the key features of school property design and how any upgrade projects will ensure a comfortable and effective learning environment.


Designing Schools in New Zealand — Requirements and Guidelines (DSNZ) is the key document among national guidelines for school property design. It contains advice prepared by the Ministry with input from educators, architects, engineers and quantity surveyors who work closely with schools. It's designed to give design teams a clear understanding of the Ministry’s requirements and guidelines.

If you're upgrading property at your school, it’s important to make sure that your design team is familiar with DSNZ. Download the documents from the following page.

Education Infrastructure Design Guidance Documents

The guidelines and advice below will help ensure that school property projects are compliant with DSNZ. This includes the Designing Quality Learning Spaces (DQLS) guidelines that focus on 4 key topics:

  1. acoustics
  2. indoor air quality
  3. thermal comfort, and
  4. lighting.

These guidelines are regularly reviewed and updated. Ensure you always download the latest versions from this page.

DQLS guidelines

The Designing Quality Learning Spaces (DQLS) guidelines are a suite of documents focused on creating quality indoor learning environments. 

These guidelines apply when you're undertaking new projects or upgrading a school building.

A design team must ensure that any new learning space design complies with the standards set out in the DQLS guidelines.

Upgrades should meet the standards as near as practical.

Download and read these guidelines to become familiar with the minimum design standards expected by the Ministry, and to brief design teams and trades people on the Ministry’s requirements.


A non technical 2-page overview is also available for reading and download. It summarises the full aims of the guidelines and some key concepts.

DQLS Overview — Acoustics (2016) [PDF, 1.5 MB]

Acoustics (V2.0 2016) [PDF, 4.7 MB]

Indoor Air Quality and Thermal Comfort

DQLS — Indoor Air Quality and Thermal Comfort guide specifically focuses on improving the indoor learning environment through having adequate air quality and thermal comfort.

Ministry requirements are clearly marked as ‘mandatory’ or as a ‘recommendation’, the guide’s requirements apply to all projects.

A non-technical two-page overview is also available for reading and download.

It summarises the full guideline’s aim and some key concepts.

DQLS Overview — Indoor Air Quality & Thermal Comfort (2017) [PDF, 560 KB]

Indoor Air Quality and Thermal Comfort (V1.0 2017) [PDF, 6.3 MB]


The DQLS — lighting guide focuses on achieving good lighting, with an emphasis on natural light. It also discusses recommended lighting levels for the various learning spaces.

Lighting Version (V1.0 2007) [PDF, 1.8 MB]

Breakout spaces

Breakout spaces are shared spaces between learning spaces that encourage:

  • independent learning
  • small group work
  • cooperative work by teachers and students across classes.

In existing buildings, breakout spaces are often created in spaces that in the past were used as resource rooms or cloakrooms.

Breakout spaces can be built in with walls and glazing, or can be defined by using furniture. When breakout spaces are built in with walls and glazing, they should be:

  • separated from the main learning space with glazing or sliding glass doors so that the teacher in the main learning space can passively supervise the space
  • attached to a learning area (that is, not a library, gym, hall, resource room, another breakout space or administration area)
  • no bigger than 40m2 if accessed from only one teaching space.

Each learning space may have up to 40m² of associated breakout space. For a large breakout space shared by a number of learning spaces, we expect the average amount of breakout space per teaching space to be significantly lower than 40m2.

Large breakout spaces

Large breakout spaces (sometimes called āwhina or whānau spaces) are open congregation spaces that are part of the general circulation space. You can use them for group activities, such as assemblies.

Large breakout spaces must be connected to, and accessible from, learning spaces. People should be able to see from one space to the other, and teachers should be able to passively supervise the large breakout area from the main learning space.

You should not shut off a large breakout space and use it as additional learning space because it will take away the opportunity that your teachers and students have to work collaboratively in a flexible learning space. Large breakout spaces count towards your School Property Guide (SPG) space entitlement and may limit your future property options.

SPG entitlement

Outdoor learning areas

Outdoor learning areas can fulfil the same function as indoor breakout spaces.

An outdoor learning area must be:

  • directly accessible from an internal learning area that meets the DQLS Guidelines (not resource rooms or a withdrawal space)
  • easy for a teacher in the internal learning area to passively supervise.

Outdoor learning areas should not be built in cold, damp, or smelly places in the school. Consider your local climate before building an outdoor learning area.

You can include fixed seating and a canopy or veranda if it's attached to the main building. You shouldn't include large canopies spanning from block to block or planting and other landscaping in the project budget. This is because the project should be focused on establishing the outdoor learning area only.

Shade structures at schools

Learning streets

Many existing school buildings have large corridors along one side. One way to use this space more effectively is to turn these corridors into learning streets.

Learning streets should be directly accessible from an internal learning area. They should be:

  • be easy for a teacher in the internal learning area to passively supervise
  • have floor and wall coverings that make the space comfortable and functional to use.

You can also install cabinetry for storing resources or bags. Learning streets can be convenient places to install wet areas or art areas because they often already have vinyl floor coverings and are located near the service connections for the toilets.


Well designed storage can:

  • help to make learning spaces more effective and flexible
  • improve the aesthetic appeal of a room.

Many different storage options are available to suit different needs. When deciding on the best option for your school, consider that:

  • mobile storage units can take up floor space that may be better used for another purpose
  • if you locate storage over data and socket outlets, the outlets might become inaccessible
  • storage units can have additional functions, such as charging laptops or tablets if they have built-in charging docks
  • the look of a room can change depending on whether you choose open or concealed storage.

When planning storage for clothing and bags, consider that:

  • you should locate this storage near entry doors to preserve the condition of the carpet, especially during wet weather
  • wet clothing and lunch odours can be unpleasant in rooms people are using
  • poor design can lead to congestion at peak times.

Furniture, fittings and equipment

By choosing appropriate furniture, fittings and equipment, you can create a more efficient flexible learning space. For example, you can divide a learning space into different areas using tables, couches and chairs.

Read a summary of research findings on how furniture, fitting and equipment can affect teaching and learning.

The impact of physical design on student outcomes [PDF, 2.6 MB]

Furniture and equipment funding for schools

Teacher work spaces

Some teachers need areas where they can plan, meet collaboratively, interview, store personal items and socialise. This can be important for supporting the way that they teach.

These staff work areas:

  • should be no more than 2m2 per teacher
  • should be spread through the school rather than all in one area
  • are best located close to teaching spaces and with a design that allows teachers in the work area to see the students and vice versa.

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