Furniture manufacturers have set their sights on improving the posture of British children.
The Viking assault upon the British education furniture industry has begun with the introduction of two ranges of Danish tables and chairs for schools that can afford to afford to improve the posture of pupils and staff.
BDS Interiors has the sole UK distribution rights for the BackUp range of tables and chairs manufactured by M H Stalmobler of Denmark. The furniture has been supplied to the art department of the Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge.
The college bought the new furniture because it wanted to reduce back pain and other problems for the students. The colourful and adjustable tables can be angled towards the pupil.
Ted Coney, the head of art at Hills Road, says: "Students are used to crouching. The beauty of this furniture is that you can have the desk at any level and tipped at an angle as well."
Unfortunately the manufacturers do not define precisely the preferred height adjustment. It is essential to get that right.
BDS says it will lend schools a desk and chair so that teachers and pupils can appraise the furniture in the classroom setting. One good thing for teachers is that they do not have to bend over low tables to see the pupils' work.
BDS is not alone in marketing Scandinavian school furniture in this country; the Osmond Group has another Danish range from SIS International. These chairs are also adjustable, but they work on a different principle, a spring-loaded tilting mechanism which allows the pupil to sit forward.
David Duff-Mitchell, the head of Chafyn Grove Preparatory School, Salisbury, intends to buy SIS furniture following the good feedback with his Year 5. He says: "The health and welfare of our children is paramount. Following a period of novelty, our pupils adjusted furniture which then remained theirs. This certainly caters for the different heights of children in Year 5 very well. "
The pupils are also appreciative. Matthew Targett says: "I am tall so I am usually cramped, but with these chairs I feel comfortable."
Alice Lintin says: "If the teacher is behind you, you can turn round to look at her. The desks also adjust to your comfort if you want. I think they are brilliant."
The Osmond Group also provides posters in the classroom to remind them of how to sit and how to set themselves up.
The BDS furniture would work well in secondary schools where teachers wish to encourage independent learning by buying single desks. It does not encourage co-operation between pupils as the chairs will be set at differing heights and desks at different angles.
The research that went into manufacturing BDS furniture suggested that pupils are sitting for extended periods. In Denmark this may be the case, but in the UK classes tend to move every 30 or 40 minutes, which would cause problems.
The English are notorious for buying cheap furniture, believing it will last indefinitely. Many school bursars are proud of their "saving" on furniture and don't consider the long term-effects, an attitude apparently shared by funding bodies.
To furnish a class of 30 pupils with UK-type furniture costs about Pounds 1,000 including the VAT. BDS furniture for the same number of pupils will cost about Pounds 10,000. Ten times the cost may be too much for a school to pay, even though the pupils' health and welfare is of great concern.
However, back problems do cost the country millions each year and a Danish Ministry of Education survey found that 60 per cent of pupils complained of pains in the back, head, knees and legs when using conventional chairs.
The BDS furniture is well designed and offers enough options for the schools, but the upholstered chair pad costs the same as a UK school table.
Unfortunately, there is no mention in the Osmond or BDS catalogues that the furniture has been tested to UK standards so check which standards have been applied.
To get it right you should confirm that the school furniture has been tested to BS 5873 Part 2 and 3, which is the UK strength and stability standard as required by the Department for Education and Employment.
* BDS Interiors, The Cottage, Woollards Lane, Great Shelford, Cambridge CB2 5LZ.Tel: 01223 844577. Stand 34 * Osmond Group, 136 Stanley Green Road, Poole, Dorset.Tel: 01202 777222.