Are you sitting uncomfortably?;Letter

11th June 1999 at 01:00
The article on size and design of school furniture (Friday magazine, May 28) raises greater issues than simply pupil comfort and physical development.

Physical factors influence the behaviour and learning of all pupils, but especially so when they are poorly motivated - these are the children who will be constantly out of their seats or fidgeting.

I provide consultancy for behavioural difficulties. My experience is that disruptive behaviour has a correlation with poor-quality accommodation. There is a stark contrast with the amount of Health and Safety Executive advice and legislation designed to protect office workers and bench-top operatives. Pupils (and teachers) come second best.

In primary schools, about one in four of my cases are helped by attention to seating. This usually draws attention to a child too big for the furniture provided, or using an inappropriate chair. Taller children sit hunched back, with thighs off the seat and all their weight on the pelvic bones.

I have seen moulded plastic stacker-type chairs used when proper chairs are in short supply - these provide no lumbar support, but strain the body when used at a table, and the splayed legs snag passers-by. It is little wonder if these pupils are stressed and regularly appear unsettled.

The other key consideration is personal space. Even if a classroom is not overcrowded, the furniture may not provide adequate personal space to ensure comfort or convenience.

School furniture is designed around fixed-table stations and matched chairs; these seem sized down to a minimum, with insufficient allowance for how children may grow within a school year.

Aggression and anxiety increase in crowded or uncomfortable conditions. Before condemning a child's behaviour, look first to their comfort and "elbow room".

Owen Booker, People and Places Consultancy, The Chapel House, Newton on the Hill, Harmer Hill, Shrewsbury

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