CPD 2: Designing school sports halls

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The latest in our series of CPD modules focuses on the process of designing sports halls for schools to the expected ‘level of play’ and meeting the requirements of a range of activities. This module is produced in association with Sport England

How to take this module


To take this module read the technical article below and click through to a multiple-choice questionnaire, once taken you will receive your results and if you successfully pass you will be issued automatically with a certificate to print for your records.

CPD building


School sports halls are a key part of our sporting infrastructure. Not only are they integral to the ability of schools to deliver a full PE curriculum, they can provide vital opportunities for sports development within the wider local community and beyond. Sound strategic planning and appropriate specification are essential if new sports halls are to meet the needs of PE departments, inter-school competitions and other sports uses. Designers need to understand the detailed requirements
of all the various activities that they are intended to host in order to create a cost-effective, functional and attractive environment that will appeal to all users, whether pupils, teachers, players or spectators.

As a response to financial pressures on the leisure and education sectors, last year government agency Sport England conducted a review into the affordability of sports halls. The resulting publication, Affordable Sports Halls, gives a range of indicative designs, specifications and cost data that are fully compliant with current standards. It is intended to inform the early briefing and design stages of sports-hall projects and provides useful references for all project stages, from early feasibility studies through to final project details.


Size and location

The sports hall is likely to be one of the largest building elements on a school site. Ideally, it should be co-located with other sports spaces and external pitches for ease of access and operation. A site close to the main school entrance, parking, reception area and changing facilities - with easy wayfinding and good signage - is desirable.

Traditionally, the size of a sports hall is expressed in terms of the number of badminton courts that it can accommodate. For example, a 34.5m x 20m sports hall can hold four badminton courts and is therefore referred to as a four-court hall.

However, the specific size of any sports hall is determined by the range of sports and, most importantly, the “levels of play” anticipated. Sport England and the national governing bodies of sports (NGBs) use the following definitions for levels of play:

  • International: The lowest level of international play (with limited spectator viewing)
  • Premier: Regional or inter-county competitions between premier or national league clubs
  • Club: District and county league competitions between local clubs
  • Community: School and community use, where there is no formal competitive structure and no need for space for officials or spectator accommodation.

Each sport has specific requirements concerning aspects such as field of play and safety margins, lighting and flooring for a given level of play.

It is essential that such needs are defined and understood at an early stage of the design process.

If the facility is intended for community use but has no known specific requirements, the Sport England/NGBs recommendation is that a five-court hall be developed.

This provides the greatest potential for a range of sports and flexibility of programming over the life of the building. Where this is not possible, a four-court hall of at least 34.5m x 20m is recommended.

A clear height of 7.5m to the underside of light fittings, fixed equipment or other elements would normally be required for a sports hall on a school site unless designed as a specialist centre for a higher level of play.

To help designers to fully understand the strategic and local requirements for sports halls, Sport England and the NGBs have developed a methodology, set out in the document Developing the Right Sports Hall. It shows a simple seven-step process to create a “statement of requirements” and decide on the appropriate size of the sports hall and support accommodation. This will allow the designers to develop a robust brief and schedule of accommodation. The seven steps to consider are:

1. Supply and demand issues
2. Strategic considerations
3. Type of activity / Level of play categories
4. Levels of use
5. Development of the project brief
6. The business case
7. The decision


Circulation and access

Circulation routes to and from sports halls should be suitable for groups of users, bearing in mind that the normal maximum school occupancy would be 60 (that is, two classes of 30). An important design consideration is the provision of sufficient space outside the sports hall doors. This acts as a waiting area before a lesson begins, as well as providing space for doors to swing outwards and for the safe manoeuvring of sports equipment that might be shared with other areas of the building. The space might also be used for storage of wheelchairs, buggies or as a modest social area with vending machines. Vision panels or small windows into the hall can improve the general ambience, and contribute to an awareness of how the sports hall is being used and when it can be safely accessed.

Doorways and circulation routes should be designed with sufficient width for users with sports wheelchairs. These have splayed wheels and are considerably wider than normal day chairs, as shown in the table overleaf.

A “sports wheelchair zone” should be established running to the sports hall from the parking area, main entrance, reception and changing rooms, which can be easily negotiated by wheelchair users when pushing their sports chairs in front of them. Space should be available for users to transfer from their day chairs and for these to be securely stored.

Changing rooms and toilets should be fully accessible for all users, with door and corridor widths that are suitable for all but the very widest sports chairs. See Sport England guidance note Accessible Sports Facilities for more details.

A sport equipment store of 12.5% of the sports hall area is the recommended minimum for a school or community sports hall. The access doors need to be robust in order to withstand accidental impact, and sufficiently wide to allow large items of equipment to be moved with ease. As with all doors and viewing panels into the hall, they also need to be flush with the inner rebound wall to avoid creating a safety hazard.


Sports wheelchairs may be significantly wider than normal day chairs. This diagram is taken from the Sport England guidance note Accessible Sports Facilities

 Approx lengthWidth
Sports chairs (general)800mm800-1,200mm
Tennis chairs850mm1,000mm
Racing chairs1,800mm750mm

Flooring, walls and ceilings

The floor surface is probably the most important item of equipment in any sports facility. No single surface will ideally suit all indoor sports, so clarity about the “priority sports” will help to establish the most acceptable compromise. Sports floors should comply with BS EN 14904, and the degree of friction, deformation, energy absorption and ball bounce are all important factors. The requirements vary for different sports - for example, consistency of ball bounce would be essential if cricket practice is a priority.

A force reduction of about 45% should be considered for user comfort and in order to avoid injuries to older children and adults involved in strenuous training and competitive levels of play.

Walls and doors must be flush to a height of at least 2.5m and should ideally give a degree of energy absorption in case of accidental collisions. The upper wall surfaces should have a proportion of sound-absorbing material to help achieve the required reverberation time and a consistent light reflectance value (of 30-50%) for badminton. The walls should also be designed to support fixed sport equipment, to withstand ball impact and to be clean, without dust traps or features that can trap footballs and shuttlecocks.

Similarly, ceilings should have appropriate sound-absorption properties, be able to support fixed sports equipment and be finished in white to give a good spread of light and minimise glare from individual fittings.


Daylight and artificial lighting

For safety reasons, daylighting is incompatible with many of the uses of sports halls, and any windows and roof lights will need blackout blinds to avoid glare and sun penetration. This creates a number of design, construction and operating issues that will increase capital costs.

The artificial lighting scheme must avoid conflict with fixed equipment and must be arranged in precise relation to basketball, netball, volleyball and particularly badminton court layouts. Glare avoidance, illumination and uniformity levels, and resistance to impact damage are also key factors. The recent Sport England guidance note Artificial Sports Lighting gives the most up-to-date requirements for different sports.

Various types of lighting control system allow operators to dim or switch off lights easily to suit individual sports at different levels of play and complement an energy-saving strategy.

It is important to note that daylighting is not necessary for a Part L-compliant energy strategy. Studies by Sport England indicate that for a standalone sports hall, the most cost-effective solution is achieved through a combination of energy-efficiency measures and by including photovoltaic panels on the roof rather than
roof lights.



Appropriate acoustic conditions are essential for effective teaching and coaching, as well as improving the general sporting environment. A low ambient noise level and a reverberation time of less than two seconds are recommended by Sport England and the Education Funding Agency. This can be achieved through the use of sound-absorbing surfaces on the ceiling and the upper walls; noise insulation from adjacent spaces and plant rooms should also be considered. See the Sport England website for more detailed information and recent survey work.

About Sport England

Sport England provides a range of services to ensure that the development of new sports facilities is underpinned by a robust evidence base. A series of detailed design guidance notes are available to help improve the design of new and modernised sports facilities.

These are free to download from the Sport England website, at www.sportengland.org/facilities_planning.aspx.

How to take this module

To take this module read the technical article below and click through to a multiple-choice questionnaire, once taken you will receive your results and if you successfully pass you will be issued automatically with a certificate to print for your records.


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