Words change their meanings according to the cultural context within which they are used. Take "tray" for example. At weekends, the primary teacher thinks of a tray as being a round tin thing for the convenient movement of alcoholic drinks. On weekdays, however, "tray" describes a stackable plastic storage container.
Almost every primary classroom has some of these. The pupils may have one each for their own books and materials, and there will be others labelled up for equipment and materials. Their great advantage, of course, is that they keep the classroom looking tidy and at the same time are easily accessible to children and adults and convenient to carry around. Usually they live in specially-designed wooden or metal units, but they can also sit on desk tops or simply stack one on top of the other.
Similar trays, of course, are also extensively used in secondary science preparation rooms, where racks of them provide efficient storage for small apparatus. In recent times, however, according to Neville Hudson, managing director of Gratnell, a leading manufacturer in this field, it is the primary school market which has expanded considerably.
Part of the growth, he believes, comes from a drive to replace old-style brown trays with modern ones in brighter colours. And that "schools are also being inundated with construction kits that need to be kept safe and tidy".
Gratnell trays come in three depths - shallow (75mm) deep (150mm) and the recently introduced jumbo (300mm). This latter size was introduced mainly because of demand from early years teacher who want somewhere to keep toys and construction kits. All the trays are of the standard width of 312mm that has been used for many years, which means that the trays will fit existing furniture as well as the frames and trolleys made by Gratnell. The trays come in a choice of 20 colours, including the national curriculum subject colours. A translucent tray is also available.
Gratnell trays have all sorts of design features: a clip-on lid is available that fits all three sizes and converts the tray into a closed container. The jumbo tray can even have wheels. All the trays can be "nested" within each other when they are empty, or stacked on top of each other when full. They have robust sides, and reinforced bottoms so they do not bend and fall through the runners when full of heavy items. The plastic material itself (polypropylene) is strong and thick and has an anti-static additive to prevent the attraction of dust.
For all of these reasons, it makes better economic sense in the long run to buy trays designed for the classrom rather than the cheaper containers sold at garages and supermarkets for use in the home.
Prices of Gratnell trays start at Pounds 2 each and go up to about Pounds 6. Gratnell's, Angel Point, Eley Road, London. JN18 3BH.JTel: 0181 803 0605.