Tibberton Primary School, UK

Before working with ELIZABETH JARMAN®, our school was full of brightly coloured classrooms. Walls had multi-coloured designs, were crowded with posters and had very little clear wall space. In the corridors all the notice and display boards were a dark red colour with black borders – this felt very oppressive, and the children crowded into the corridors nosily with little respect for each other. We lacked reading corners in the school but did have them in Reception.

Observing children’s behaviour and response in different parts of your environment is important and highlights it’s influence.  ~ Elizabeth Jarman

Our nursery environment was pretty much the same, full of brightly coloured trays and toys often stacked on shelves.  Although the toys were accessible to the children, the types of play we observed, demonstrated that they were limited and pre-determined, which often led to frustration and poor behaviour from the children.

Outside, there was little to tempt children in terms of exploratory play. The children would run around the Key Stage 1(KS1) area like planes on a runway. Of course, this type of play is fine, but it was observed that it was taking place for the majority of the time. Additionally, at   playtimes there were lots of children struggling to play cooperatively in that space.

Outside is so often overlooked as an optimum learning space. Not just to encourage movement but for learning, gathering and connecting~ Elizabeth Jarman

Our nursery staff team returned from the CFS™ training course enthused. As a starting point they audited the environment and tried to see the setting through a different ‘lens’. As a result of the audit, we took away all the plastic toys, the brightly coloured displays and added open ended equipment and resources. We removed the red chairs and red storage. Immediately the effect was dramatic.  The noise level reduced and the behaviour of the children improved.  The children were calmer and more engaged and stimulated by the open-ended materials.

The concept and approach of CFS™ grew and has been part of our philosophy now for 10 years. We try to ensure that our environment remains natural and open-ended and always provides spaces for children to communicate.

Audit your environment and establish your starting point. Observing objectively using the CFS™ principles will help you to plan strategically and involve the whole team ~Elizabeth Jarman

The change in school was more gradual; firstly, the reception class began adopting the neutral and natural environment and this broadened then to include the whole school reflecting the ethos of the CFS™ Approach. We now have places in school for children to snuggle down, to talk and read together. Each class has a book corner with cosy chairs and cushions.  Ceilings that were previously high, echoing lots of noise, are now lowered with bunting, twigs and drapes and slowly we are getting rid of brightly coloured furniture and equipment and we are consciously replacing them with natural materials.


Each class now has more open-ended resources. The CFS™ ethos has spread outside making a dramatic difference to playtimes.  Two simple tables and some blankets make for a cosy space to hide, dream or chat.  There is an outside sofa and role-play for all children to use at playtime, up to year six (10/11-year olds).  Noticeably, we now have no behavioural problems at playtimes as all of the children are occupied and can find a space they prefer.

Whole school approach - outside

This is a whole school approach. It requires planned, intentional change which might challenge “historical” thinking ~Elizabeth Jarman

Smaller contexts can make bigger spaces feel more manageable, whilst offering places to talk, reflect and think. ~ Elizabeth Jarman

Our Parent, Teachers and Friends Association (PTFA) are also on board and have just bought us 5 wooden ‘pods’ to put on the field to provide yet more natural spaces for our children. This involvement by all groups working with our school is essential in planning strategically and everyone being able to make the connection between space and learning. We have visitors most weeks coming to see our learning environment and to find out about the impact that the CFS™ Approach has made on our teaching and learning.

Our professional visitors are always commenting about how calm the school is, despite being very over-subscribed. We attribute this to the changes that we made to our whole school environments through CFS™. Additionally:

  • Ofsted inspections have both commented on the inspiring and stimulating environments in the school and nursery
  • The children are less distracted and more engaged whilst at their activities
  • The children are more independent and used to accessing materials on their own
  • The children spend an increased amount of time talking and communicating with their peers, staff and parents specifically in Communication Friendly Spaces around the school
  • Displays of children’s work are high quality and mean something to the children
  • Staff are proud of their environment and inspire the children to respect and look after it.

Staff provide a highly stimulating environment that encourages children to join in with the activities. Children show keen interest and excellent concentration, and listen carefully to adults and each other. They show exceptional levels of cooperation, and work and play together in a harmonious manner. Their behaviour is exemplary. ~ Nursery Ofsted November 2015

The school is an inspiring environment for both staff and pupils. Staff are encouraged to bring innovative ideas into the classroom and speak passionately about the impact it has had on pupils’ outcomes. You have created a culture where all members of the school community are learners and all play a vital part in improving the learning opportunities for pupils.

It is a little school with big ideas! ~ School Ofsted November 2017

As a team we all realise that the environment can enhance the quality of learning. We have more clarity about how children learn and the importance of supporting the whole child in our school. We know that less is more!

This is not restricted to improving the experience for students; school staff teams have found that their work experiences have been transformed when the learning environment is more considered ~ Elizabeth Jarman

We love the CFS™ Approach – it is now embedded in both the whole school and our nursery and we talk about CFS™ as a matter of everyday living and learning.  We also love the fact that we constantly reflect, improve and change, for example we’ve recently got a sofa for our entrance hall as we had noticed that children often read there and needed somewhere to do so in comfort.  It is very popular and extremely welcoming.  Our inspiring and calm environment has positively impacted on children, staff, parents and visitors.

The CFS(TM) Approach

Using the CFS™ Approach means that every decision you make about your learning environment is to enhance what happens there. Be clear, this is not simply a cosmetic makeover, but a collaborative movement. Learning is not a spectator sport, students have to be considered and involved for it to be impactful ~ Elizabeth Jarman

Amanda Horniman
Headteacher – Tibberton Primary School