Underpinning Principles: An enabling environment

The space we live in has a powerful influence over us, particularly the space we grew up in…The spaces that teachers [parents/child care educators] create for children seem to hold enduring memories for them that have a powerful influence on what that will value later in life.
Fraser, 2006

An enabling environment within our Trust is characterised by:

Embedded Sense of Ethos and Values

The environment supports the Trust’s ethos and values. It celebrates the love, care and respect that children are shown. Children are empowered to be active learners, who have a sense of responsibility, ownership and independence. The emotional climate is warm and welcoming with a noticeable focus on developing reciprocal relationships and effective learning behaviours. Value is placed on the community of learning and this is recognised in displays, documentation, the choice of learning themes and resources. Children take pride in their own learning and presentation and that of their peers. They understand that their ideas are taken seriously and that their views and opinions count and matter.

Inspiration and Celebration

The environment is vibrant and stimulating offering a range of multi-sensory opportunities and provocations. Children show high levels of involvement, engagement, motivation and persistence. Children are encouraged to share their learning with others it is celebrated publicly or privately as appropriate to the needs of the child. Displays are an integral part of approaches to raise attainment and achievement. They celebrate the process of learning, individuality and provide a platform for rewarding effort.

Communication and Interaction

The environment serves as an interactive resource designed to provoke dialogue, active listening and sustained shared thinking between children and adults alike. Adults model the use of ‘Language Structures’ (Tower Hamlets EMA Team) supporting and encouraging children to develop their automaticity of use. “Good learning starts with questions, not answers.” (Claxton, 1990, 27). Adults use questions that support and extend children’s higher order thinking skills, spelling and vocabulary. Technology is used responsibly with a clear pedagogy to improve teaching and learning experiences. Interest tables are used for a range of curriculum subjects to spark curiosity and create an instant frame of reference for learning. Reading and book areas stimulate children’s interest incorporating a wide range of authors and genres. Role play areas are used across the year groups supporting children to initiate and explore real life and imaginary contexts independently, with a clear sense of purpose.

Documentation of Learning

Learning is documented in a variety of ways including books, photography, film, social media and displays. This documentation not only values and celebrates children’s knowledge, skills and understanding but also the learning journey itself enabling children to reflect on and articulate their own learning process, whilst supporting adults to consider their practice in the classroom (Hale, 2018). The achievements of all children and all subjects are celebrated in a  range of ways  including home learning, subject displays and interest tables and Star of the Week.

Capability and Competency

Learning environments reflect children’s capacity to be creative, flexible, open minded thinkers who can make sound judgements and construct knowledge in complex ways. Resources are well organised, accessible, at child height, well-spaced and visible to all. There are multiple opportunities for risk taking –emotional, physical and cognitive. Adult fears and anxieties do not unnecessarily ‘confine’, ‘over protect’ or disempower children.

Inclusive Playtimes and Lunchtimes

Playtimes and lunchtimes are planned in order to support the needs of all children, emotionally, socially and physically, enabling all children to participate successfully.  Play spaces are organised into clear activity zones. Children take on the role of play leaders in many areas, encouraging and supporting leadership skills. Children are encouraged to be active, however provision is also made for those children who need time for calm, quiet activities and reflection. Children are encouraged to enjoy fresh air and the outside environment everyday. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing!” (Wainwright)

Family Involvement

Children’s individual family circumstances are valued. Warm, caring, empathic, respectful and contextually relevant reciprocal relationships are built with families. Family engagement is encouraged and valued through a range of activities including parent forums, volunteering, celebration events and assemblies. Ways in which to develop closer more wide ranging and productive relationships for the benefit of the children are continuously considered and explored.

Organisation and Resourcing

The environment is clean, tidy and organised. Learning spaces are organised creatively and flexibly to maximise learning opportunities for all children. Furniture, fabrics and materials ensure that movement and ‘flow’ are well considered and that areas are enticing and inviting. Learning spaces promote a range of teaching and learning strategies, including whole class, peer mentoring/coaching, targeted interventions, guided group and independent.  High quality relevant resources are used to prompt ideas, questions and curiosity. Resources are well organised, accessible, at child height, well-spaced and visible to all.

Social Learning Experiences

Learning experiences respect children’s rich capacities, abilities and creativities and stimulate intellectual growth. Pedagogical approaches are based on learning through interrogating and investigating provocations and questions, which is exemplified in the use of open ended resources, experimentation, discovery and authentic contextually relevant problems to solve. Learning opportunities promote cooperation, collaboration, community and negotiation. They are designed to provoke rich dialogue, active listening and sustained shared thinking between all participants. There are spaces for social collaboration, partner talk, group activity and the co-construction of learning. Adults and children work together in a negotiated, shared learning experience.


The environment includes spaces for social collaboration, whole class, group and independent learning, quiet reflection and listening. There are opportunities for children to practise and embed skills in meaningful and ‘playful’ contexts. Children with a range of additional needs are supported to succeed through the use of relevant personalised teaching and learning strategies, and resources. There are designated spaces for personalised support including areas for nurture, one to one counselling, coaching and mentoring, calming and self-regulation.

Conducive Physical Environment

The environment provides for children’s physical needs. The temperature of learning spaces is airy and conducive to concentration. Levels of sound and light are used to create mood and focus relevant to learning activities. This may include the use of dimmed lighting or background music. Water is always available for children and adults emphasising the importance of physical hydration to support learning. There are planned opportunities for nourishment, rest, relaxation, and excitement. Effective reasonable adjustments are made for children with additional needs including those with physical and sensory disabilities and sensitivities.

Effective Deployment of Additional Adults

Deployment of additional adults is responsive to the needs of all children. Additional adults may work with children as a whole class, in groups or on a one to one basis. They are supported to understand the needs of the children they work with and how to adapt their teaching strategies to maximise engagement and learning. Adults consistently model and demonstrate effective learning strategies, approaches and behaviours. They work closely with the teacher giving the highest regard to the safe guarding of children. They ensure children feel safe and secure and are supervised appropriately whilst enriching experiences, encouraging social interactions and documenting learning. “The primary role of the teaching assistant should be to work with teachers to raise the learning and attainment of pupils whilst also promoting their independence, self esteem and social inclusion. TA standards.” (DfE, 2015, p5)

Claxton, G.  (1990) Teaching to Learn: A Direction for Education, London: Cassell Publishing
DfE (2015) Professional standards for teaching assistants Departmental advice for headteachers, teachers, teaching assistants, governing boards and employers, London: DfE
Fraser, S. (2006) Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom Paperback (2nd Ed), Edinburgh: Thomas/Nelson
Tower Hamlets EMA Team (no date)  Progression in Language StructuresSome suggestions for class teachers in planning for children’s academic language development, London: Tower Hamlets EMA Team
Rosenthal-Tolisano, S. and Hale, A. (2018) A Guide to Documenting Learning: Making Thinking Visible, Meaningful, Shareable, and Amplified, Thousand Island Oaks, Corwin Press