Image 7.1A well-structured school physical environment helps to promote learning and encourage positive social interactions among students and staff. These characteristics can be part of the school master plan, or they may be created by students. Used effectively, school facilities, equipment and activities can encourage cooperative behaviours and positively influence student interactions, including the reduction of bullying.

Features of the school environment can be divided
into three main categories: structural, functional and built features. Structural features of a school include the school’s size, socio-economic status and sector; functional features include the house and homeroom systems and pastoral care programs; and built environment characteristics include the presence of graffiti and the condition of the buildings and equipment available for students. This comprehensive view of a school environment encapsulates more than just buildings and the schoolyard, helping to identify features of a school that can be modified without necessarily engaging in expensive building programs.

Only recently have researchers begun investigating how the physical environment may influence students’ academic and social outcomes. One retrospective study of secondary school students emphasised characteristics such as a larger school size (represented by F–12 students on the campus), prioritisation of pastoral care, graffiti, a well-established house system and vertical homeroom systems. These features all predicted students’ enhanced feelings of connectedness to their school and improved mental health outcomes, compared with students at schools without these features. This research demonstrates how physical and intangible school structural characteristics can improve student outcomes, including students’ feelings of connectedness and improved mental health.