Bright lights dull pupils

7th September 2007 at 01:00
Adi Bloom examines papers published at the British Educational Research Association conference in London this week

MOST SCHOOLS use a type of fluorescent lighting that can cause headaches and makes it hard to concentrate. Reflected glare from interactive whiteboards and through classroom blinds can also have adverse effects on pupils' work.

Mark Winterbottom, a lecturer in education at Cambridge University, examined 90 classrooms in six local authorities and found the level of lighting in 84 per cent of the classrooms was too bright for comfort when the lights were on and blinds open. More than a third were too bright, even with closed blinds.

He blamed the problems on poor school design. Overlighting could be avoided through better classroom design or the use of high-frequency fluorescent lighting, which does not cause discomfort, he said.

Eighty per cent of the classrooms investigated were lit by 100Hz fluorescent lighting. These flicker imperceptibly, creating visual discomfort, making it more difficult for pupils to read, and increasing the likelihood of pupils suffering from headaches. Younger children were particularly susceptible, he said.

In all but one of the classrooms the interactive whiteboard was mounted on the wall, with the projector on the ceiling. The reflection from the projections was therefore directed into pupils' eyes, magnified by the whiteboard's sheen.

"Wherever possible, such boards should be tilted, so that reflected glare is directed towards the ceiling," said Dr Winterbottom.

In classes with minimal sunlight, the fluorescent lighting installed for desks furthest from the windows meant that desks nearer the windows were lit too brightly.

Almost a quarter of the classrooms were fitted with venetian blinds that caused shadow patterns to fall across the room. Desks were often arranged so that pupils directly faced the blinds. "Striped patterns can be responsible for visual stress and provoke headaches, migraines and epileptic seizures," he said.

"None of these sources of visual discomfort is necessary and most appear due to poor policy decisions," Dr Winterbottom reported. "In most cases, action to reduce the visual discomfort would be simple."

* mw244@cam.ac.uk

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