Find out how Saint George Catholic College’s new labs are benefitting students

A teacher with a periodic table poster

Source: Courtesy of the author

Euan and his colleagues designed all the fabulous posters in the chemistry labs at Saint George Catholic College

Meet assistant head teacher Euan Douglas, who’s been teaching for 15 years, 10 of which have been at Saint George Catholic College in Southampton. It’s a voluntary-aided Catholic secondary school with 950 students. Let’s find out more about Euan’s teaching space and the college.

Tell us about your school.

Saint George Catholic College originally opened in the 1950s as a mixed comprehensive school. Then it became an all-boys school for many years, before shifting to co-ed again in 2013. Due to rapid and sustained school-wide improvements, the school has become very popular and oversubscribed, despite increasing in size considerably over the past decade.

Every student has three specialist science teachers (biology, chemistry and physics) in years 10 and 11 for their GCSE courses, so every student has a specialist chemistry teacher whether they do combined science or triple science. We find that all students across the attainment range benefit from this provision and we are fortunate to have a range of specialists in our team to make this possible.

We’re so proud of how our labs look and feel, and think it has a big impact on how students view our subject when they arrive for lessons

How would you describe your classroom set-up?

We have fixed plinths with gas and electric serviced from the floor in the room, with sinks located at the back or side of the classroom rather than right next to where students normally work. The desks are moveable so can be rearranged quickly and easily to suit different lessons and activities. We have huge windows which fill the labs with natural light, a teacher demonstration bench at the front and a large interactive screen on the front wall.

What are you most proud of in your teaching space?

In January 2021, we moved into a new building, after a wait of many years; our previous accommodation was not fit for purpose. We were very involved in the design of the building and labs, and we’re really proud of the thought and work that went in to making things the way we wanted, to benefit our students most. I love the way our labs work so well – whether we’re doing practical work or classwork, it never feels like either is compromised, and the space is used flexibly to ensure this.

We’re so proud of how our labs look and feel, and think it has a big impact on how students view our subject when they arrive for lessons. While this is partly because the labs are very new, a lot of what we have here could be reproduced in any lab.

And what’s your favourite area in your classroom?

An empty chemistry classroom

Source: Courtesy of the author

Moveable desks can quickly be rearranged, depending on the lesson activity

When designing our labs, I really wanted them to feel like a science lab rather than a typical classroom so students get a sense that they’re entering a different environment when arriving for lessons. I felt that different departments across the school, such as PE, music, art and ICT, all had specialist areas, designed to encourage a certain way of thinking and behaving. I wanted the same for science, for students to feel that they should behave and act in a certain way when in the chemistry teaching space. So, instead of having a list of lab rules on the wall, certain behaviours are implicit in the space. Students wouldn’t ask to eat in here, for example, because it just doesn’t look or feel like this is an option. 

To do this, I kept the colours minimal and I didn’t want students’ work on the walls, either. Instead, our team discussed displays and designed our own A0-sized posters to go in each lab, which ended up being much cheaper than buying posters and they had the exact information we wanted. For example, the safety poster has pictures of the actual equipment in our labs to help students identify things, and school logos too. They’re really useful and make the lab look like a professional science environment, as well as reducing the need for individual teachers to design and produce displays for their own classrooms – all our labs have the same posters.

If you had an unlimited budget, what would you spend it on?

I would love to have air conditioning in my classroom. We did ask for this during the new building design, but there’s currently no funding provided in school building projects for air conditioning. I think this may need to change if heatwaves are on the rise, because of the significant impact on teacher and student comfort and concentration.

It was definitely worth the wait for the new labs, and we’re making the most of them. We intend to look after them – whether or not we ever get air conditioning.

Show us your classroom and lab

Want to share your teaching space? Then email us and your favourite space or display could feature in EiC online and in print.