For as long as there have been chairs in schools, pupils have taken a peculiar delight in swinging on them. But the passing of time has made it no less annoying. It is often cited as one of the all time great classroom irritants.
"It may seem petty, but the constant chair swinging is driving me nuts," says a teacher on the TES online forum (www.tes.co.uk). "While I'm talking, pupils are either falling off their chair or spinning on one leg."
It frustrated Tom Wates too. The low-level classroom chatter annoyed him, but it was the rhythmic rocking back and forth that "drove me mad". Every teacher he spoke to agreed. "You'd just be on a bit of a roll, when someone would fall off their chair and everyone would laugh," says Mr Wates, who taught PE and maths at a school in Blackheath, southeast London. "It would ruin the flow of the lesson."
Mr Wates felt there wasn't much he could do about the talking, but was sure he could stop the swinging. He came up with the concept for the Max chair last year, which was then created by the design company Sedley Place. It has curved legs that prevent rocking and Mr Wates insists that no child can lift it more than 5cm off the ground.
"At every exhibition I've been to, teachers come up and tell me about pupils with broken arms, stitches or scars from falling off chairs. For me, it was an annoyance, but for others it's a safety issue."
Up to 7,000 pupils are admitted to hospital in the UK each year as a result of chair-related accidents, according to Government statistics. Of those, 70 per cent were caused by rocking backwards.
One teacher says a girl fell back and hit her head on a heater. Another saw a five-year-old fall forwards and bite through the tip of his tongue. A third pupil's bottom teeth went through his top lip, resulting in broken teeth and an abundance of blood.
Witnessing such accidents will probably put your pupils off chair tipping for life. For a less dramatic lesson, TES forum users recommend an early verbal warning. Persistent offenders should then be told to stand, sit on the floor or even kneel. If this fuels further attention-seeking behaviour, such as pupils crawling across the floor for laughs, progress up the sanction ladder.
"Make them stand for a week," says a secondary school teacher. "If they are enjoying the attention from the rest of the class, make everyone stand. Ignore all comments and moans and carry on as normal. Eventually the others will have a go at the originals for making them stand."
Other tactics include charging pupils for broken chairs, putting warnings in pupils' planners, imposing detentions or simply indicating with your hands that they should sit properly. "That gets your message across without you having to stop talking," says one secondary school teacher.
Untippable furniture is another possibility. At approximately #163;20 per Max chair, it may be a costly option, but some schools clearly see it as a good investment. Mr Wates has sold 35,000 chairs in the past year, 90 per cent to UK schools.
Mr Wates has left teaching to concentrate on developing school furniture. For those left in the classroom, the message is clear: either consider specialist furniture or treat chair swinging like the behavioural issue it is.
"It's like any other off-task activity," says Tom Bennett, head of religious studies and philosophy at Raine's Foundation School in east London who hosts the TES online behaviour forum. "It distracts the swinging pupil and the rest of the class, wrecks chairs and is potentially dangerous. Plus, when the balancing goon invariably falls on their backside, the whole class gets drawn into their clownish antics."
Remind pupils why you impose a "four on the floor" rule, ideally ensuring a consistent approach across the whole school. They'll come to see that tough love is generally preferable to no teeth
Next week Girl trouble
- Explain why you have a no-tipping rule.
- Give a couple of verbal warnings. If chair swinging continues, get pupils to stand, kneel or sit on the floor.
- Consider "don't lean back" furniture: www.dlbltd.co.uk.
- Ignore it. Falls can distract the class andor cause serious injury.