The 5 Senses Exposed in School Reception Areas

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Joseph Cash Primary School


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What does your school reception area look, feel, smell and sound like?

These are the things I’ve seen and learned from walking through 100s of school and college reception areas…

This week, I’ve been back on the road and it’s been existing to meet teachers and school leaders once more.

Working with teachers across the world, I get to visit and see lots and lots of reception areas. This functional place is the first port of call for all guests. Some take the space seriously, whilst others do not appear to have given it a second thought. Of course, COVID-19 is a factor at this time…

Does your school reception activate your neurons?

This central space, evident in tiny village schools to large academies – with church-like atriums spanning 2 or 3 floors above – provide you with a real sense of the school values living out beyond the reception desk. They are also an opportunity to immerse the senses, activating neurons and emotions!

Visitors can be shoehorned into a cupboard away from the busy chatter and din of the corridors. Others encourage visitors to embrace the school environment, with guests placed on the front line and immersed by the staff and pupils.

Some of the most inspiring reception areas are classroom-based, with pupils and teachers in lessons as visitors come and go. Below I’ve offered a summary of the good and not so good features, logistics and influences that are applicable to a range of environments.


Whether your school is a new build or has been around for decades, happier schools tend to have brighter reception areas. This can be something as simple as effective lighting, plants, a fish tank, some music or a lick of paint! Even the most affluent and traditional are inspiring places to walk through. Happier schools make the most of their awkwardly shapes spaces or 3-floor atriums which are open spaces for teaching and learning, first aid, site staff logistics and anything and everything.

I think the other important point to highlight here is, the students themselves can also enter this space. In larger institutions, there is often a private space so that visitors can have important and confidential conversations.


Until you’ve walked into a reception area that stinks, this is probably something that you haven’t thought about! Many teachers will have witnessed various comings and goings, with the occasional mud (or dog faeces) smeared across the tiles or carpet as people walk by.

Whatever it is, a bunch of flowers, an air freshener or a quick squirt of ‘Cherry Bloss’ makes all the difference, particularly at busy periods. Conscientious schools have these areas cleaned before and after the main traffic passes through…


The most memorable school reception areas are full of positive sounds, from teaching and learning snippets live-streamed or recorded and played on the over-hanging plasma screen, to positive conversations between staff, pupils and parents. The office is an open hub of activity, with professional conversations at the heart of public observation.

When things aren’t so good, visitors can learn all sorts of things about the staff from private conversations being spoken too loudly, and in earshot! Some reception areas are ‘open’, with public phone calls, staff conversations around the photocopier or ‘quick updates’ between lesson changeover, not to mention emergencies are all part of school life.

How the reception manager organises everyone publicly and privately is a training need worth considering.


Of course, there will be some things out of your control, perhaps some minor building work or a leak, but these things are fixed immediately and tend to be overshadowed by all the other amazing things on offer. Comfortable chairs, fabric cushions, school magazines, trophies on display and small art installations all make what is a relatively short experience, more memorable.

Plants are an easy fix and feel as textured pillows, but often overlooked and in its place, a crappy, metal-framed chair is left for the visitor instead of something like this!


Now, this is a tricky one! Yes, I have entered a reception where there is coffee freshly available as well as some biscuits recently baked by the year seven food technology class! Whilst these perks cannot be available all of the time for everybody, these small perks do make a big impression. Obviously, this becomes a bit of a challenge if you have the entire school flooding through the reception area, but not impossible early in the morning or late in the evening…

In schools where food, coffee or water is not an option, rotating images of the school lunch menu, with pupils ‘happily’ eating healthy school meals is always a winner!

The school reception is the first port of call for all visitors. It can help improve your admissions, staffing appointments and welcome vulnerable pupils to a place of learning and sanctuary…

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