DISADVANTAGED pupils perform better in maths when they can see trees from their classroom, new research has revealed.
A study of thousands of poor five to 10-year-olds found that by simply making their surroundings greener, academic performance increased.
The finding, published in Frontiers in Psychology, builds on a host of previous studies linking nature to children’s brainpower.
But this is the first to show the effect may specifically help the poorest students.
Dr Ming Kuo, of the University of Illionois, Urbana, said: ‘What we have here is a very exciting clue that maybe simply greening, planting trees in school yards, could potentially have a significant impact in math achievement and school success down the line for these kids.’
Last year it was revealed more than 130 schools in the UK have consistently under-performed for a decade, with Ofsted citing high proportions of deprived students among the reasons.
Now the study of 318 state schools in run down areas of Chicago found a direct link between test scores and their number of trees.
Her team used high-resolution aerial imagery to quantify tree and grass cover in each schoolyard and its surrounding neighbourhood in the most accurate analysis of its kind.
Explained Dr Kuo said: ‘The older technology could basically tell us whether a 30-metre square was blacktop or green space, but the technology we are using can tell us there is a tree here, and a foot over, there is grass.’
It found the amount of tree cover in the grounds predicted academic performance, both for reading and maths. The more trees, the better the performance.
Dr Kuo, who has spent her career quantifying the effects of nature on human health and behaviour, added: ‘As a society, we have not bothered to green our poorest, low-income minority schools.
‘It might just seem like, well, that’s too bad, it would be nice for poor kids to have nice schools, but we can’t afford it.
‘The larger body of research is suggesting that, in fact, some of the reason for the disparities we see in low-income schools versus more affluent schools may actually be due, in part, to the physical facilities we’re providing.
‘It’s not a surprise to anyone that if you don’t provide air conditioning or heating in a school then maybe the kids aren’t going to do as well.
‘But this is the first time we’ve begun to suspect that the lack of landscaping, such as trees, may help explain, in part, their poorer test scores.’