News summary:

  • Advanced digital technologies help to create a learning environment that is close to nature and designed with sustainability in mind.
  • Secure Cisco network implemented to underpin all digital use cases, including sensors and digital classroom technology.
  • Data from Cisco Meraki sensors to support both operations and the IT curriculum.

London, UK, Dec. 4, 2023 – Cisco, the Department for Education (DfE) and St Mary’s Catholic Voluntary Academy in Derby are using technology to blur the lines between the natural world and the classroom, in what is set to be the UK’s first purpose-built biophilic school, opening today.

Following an arson attack in 2020, the former school building at St. Mary’s was so severely damaged that it had to be demolished. With students in a temporary environment for nearly three years, the new site for St Mary´s is expected to be an early showcase of the DfE´s GenZero pilot programme, supported by Innovate UK and construction innovators, which aims ‘to deliver a new ultra-low carbon building standard for schools.’

Through its Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) programme, Cisco has worked in close collaboration with the DfE and school leaders to find a delicate balance with technology that blends into the environment and enriches the curriculum and operations of the school, in line with its biophilic ambitions. The concept of biophilia was adopted in the 1970’s to refer to a ’love for humanity and nature, independence and freedom’ and when applied to schools, has been linked to improved wellbeing and productivity.

The initiative has explored ways in which a foundational secure network and industry-leading sensor technology can support the biophilic objectives of the building and those who use it; so that teachers and students can have a constant connection to nature.

“We recognise the critical role that digital technology and modern IT systems play in the education sector. Our IT vision is a roadmap for ensuring our school and others will maximise the impact of technology on teaching, learning, and make our day-to-day operations much more sustainable. We are delighted to work with Cisco to help make all of this happen,” said Amanda Greaves, Headteacher of St Mary’s Catholic Voluntary Academy.

Factored into the architectural design, site-wide connectivity has been deployed to underpin all digital technology in use. From automatic windows (supplied by a partner) to digital classroom platforms, the network will support a natural flow between internal and external teaching environments – reaching from the amphitheatre, through the nature trail and to the reflection garden.

Data to improve experiences and enrich education:

St. Mary’s will leverage data analytics from sensors, cameras, and the Wi-Fi network to optimize facilities and meet its biophilic and educational goals. Cisco Meraki sensors will monitor heat, air quality, and humidity, so that the school can effectively maintain classroom environments that are more conducive to learning. Visualisation of anonymised people-flow data will enable informed decision-making on space utilisation and identify potential issues such as overcrowding or additional staffing needs.

Through the school’s IT curriculum, students will have access to sensor data to help develop their digital skills and gain a broader understanding of their impact on the environment. Additionally, the school intends to use Cisco Meraki cameras on school grounds to help students observe and monitor the wildlife and local habitat, with time-lapsed footage of the gardens that students help nurture.

To further support its sustainability goals, St. Mary’s has been designed as a serverless environment, utilising secure cloud networking functionality through Cisco Meraki. Network switches – powered by solar panels – can be configured to automatically power-down overnight; lowering CO2 emissions, promoting energy efficiency, and reducing costs. Cisco’s Power over Ethernet technology will also minimize cabling needs, improving safety, and simplifying installation that will reduce time, cost, and environmental impact.

“The DfE’s GenZero pilot scheme is an exciting opportunity for us to support the Government’s ambition of making the UK the world’s leading, sustainable, education sector by 2030,” said David Meads, Chief Executive, Cisco UK & Ireland. “We look forward to seeing how our technology can help create dynamic new ways of teaching and learning for St Mary’s pupils, introducing the natural environment to the curriculum to bring the outside in, and inside out.”

This initiative is part of a wider focus from the Cisco Country Digital Acceleration programme to support digitisation and sustainability in education around the world. Find out more about Cisco´s initiatives to support the move towards NetZero schools in the UK.



Amy Lucas

Head of Communications, Cisco UK & Ireland

+44 208 476 8243