They sound like something growing unchecked on a Petri dish, or an unfortunate, many-tentacled marine animal facing dissection by teenagers brandishing scalpels. In fact, octopods are a common breed of classroom furniture where pupils sit around eight-sided tables within handy reach of centrally located gas taps and electricity points.
According to the blurb, "the octagonal benching, either as an island unit or joined in various configurations with linking units, provide modern stimulating environments".
The only problem is that the arrangement means some students end up facing the back of the room , but every one of them is facing seven of their mates. Not exactly conducive to serious scientifc endeavour, according to some teachers.
A physicists' inquiry about the pluses and minuses of the lab layout on the Association for Science Education website brought unequivocal replies.
"They are a disaster," wrote one teacher. He claimed the science department at his school practically drew lots to try and avoid teaching in them.
"What is the logic of arranging kids so half of them face away from the teacher? And have you tried putting files, text books, pencil cases and apparatus on them?" said another.
A spokeswoman for Laboratory Engineering Technical Services, which supplies schools, said teachers either loved them or hated them.
The rightful place for octopods in the strict sense of the term - cephalopod molluscs with eight arms - seems to be biology lessons.