Questions to table

25th September 1998 at 01:00
It's unwise to spend all your money on computers and stint on the furniture for it, writes George Cole

After spending money on new computers, new software, site licences and cabling, it's perhaps little wonder that information technology furniture is viewed by some schools as an optional extra. Far better it seems, to buy a few more computers and plonk them on any old table than to spend the money on fancy-looking benches and units. Or is it?

There are a number of sound reasons for investing in IT furniture. First, computers are expensive and putting them on a rickety old table that could collapse is not the best way of protecting your investment.

Second, there are health and safety issues. If the computers are badly installed, students may trip over cables or get backache or repetitive strain injury (RSI). Finally, IT furniture can help schools maximise both space and resources.

Andy Sutton, head of IT at Orton Longueville school in Peterborough, has some sym-pathy with teachers who see IT furniture as an extravagance: "The cost of some specialist furniture is the same as five or six computers, and so it's tempting to go for the machines," he says.

But he believes there's nothing wrong in using ordinary tables for supporting computers, provided they are strong enough. "Some benching is weak and if you sit on it, it buckles. But there's also the question of flexibility - if you want to change your room around it's more difficult with fixed benching.

"Computers have to be at the right height, and so proper chairs are important. The chances are that you are going to be teaching a wide age range of students in your IT room and so the chairs need to be adjustable."

Another important point to watch out for is the depth of the bench or table. "Some compu-ters require more space than others. for example, Acorn Archimedes are pretty compact, but PCs require more room, especially for the keyboard and mouse mat." He also notes that schools should not overlook one very useful piece of IT furniture - window blinds. "Good lighting is essential and blinds can remove unwanted glare from the screen."

The parent, teacher and friend's association of Westerton primary school in Wakefield has raised Pounds 35,000 for a new IT suite, housing 20 computers. Just over 10 per cent of the budget -Pounds 4,000 - was used for purchasing IT furniture from Heron Educational.

Mark Wilson, Westerton's head of IT, says that space within the IT suite is at a premium: "The furniture (we bought) is curved and has no sharp edges, which is important if students are likely to brush against it. Computers have a lot of 'spaghetti' behind them and the furniture allows us to hide the cabling in runs under the tables, so it looks clean and is much safer."

The Dolphin School in Reading has also purchased Heron's IT furniture for a new IT suite which is being set up in the school's library:

"We wanted to optimise the space we had, and found that by using the furniture we could put an extra three computers into the room, bringing the total to 11," says Rob Porteous, Dolphin's IT co-ordinator. The furniture arrived flat-packed: "It was a bit of a trial putting it together and there were a few missing components, but Heron were very helpful," he says. The Dolphin School hopes to become a teacher training centre for IT, and installing the furniture has given the school an added bonus: "The furniture makes the IT suite look very attractive," says Mr Porteous, "and hopefully this will help us in the bidding process."

IT furniture suppliers:British Thornton: 01943 862504Crossbrook Furniture: 01992 584547ESA McIntosh: 01592 656200Heron: 01246 453354NES Arnold: 0115 971 7700

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