Why now is the time to change your seating plan

Now you know your new students a bit better, it’s time to rejig your seating plan to meet their needs, says Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns

Seating plan: Why now is the time to change it

Now that we’re a couple of weeks into the school year, you’ll be starting to get a good measure of your new students: who needs more support and encouragement, and who you need to keep an eye on. It’s the perfect time to make some tweaks to the seating plan. But who should you group together? Should you sit them boy, girl, boy, girl? Or should you sit them according to ability? Here are the some of the options to consider.

Pupil premium first

We know that right across the UK, currently and historically, pupil premium students do not make as much progress as their peers. Therefore, one potential intervention is to prioritise these students on your seating plan. Could you move these students to the front row, so you can ensure you go to support them first? Alternatively, you could place them at the end of a row, so you can get to them easily.

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SEND first

At the start of each academic year, you're likely to have been given a large amount of information on the students in your class with special educational needs and disability (SEND), ranging from students with mild dyslexia, through to ADHD and global development delay. But, however much information you’re given, there’s nothing more beneficial than getting to know these students in person.

Now you have begun this process, you can consider what extra support these students need. Do you need to place some in quiet areas of the room or possibly next to the door, so they can leave easily if need be? Some students may need an empty seat next to them for teaching assistant support, while others will need to be on the front row so that they can see the board and hear you clearly. Whatever it may be, use the information you’ve gained in the first few weeks to design a seating plan meeting all of their needs.


You’ve probably worked out by now which students are the quiet ones and which ones haven’t quite mastered “hands up”. For this strategy, consider placing loud or disruptive students in the four corners of your room. Place any additional students of concern at greatest distance from these four, and then add in the rest of your students. This is a great way to ensure that disruption is limited, and that students are well away from those they can be boisterous with. It would also be worth considering which students might benefit from sitting on the front row where they can get additional non-verbal cues from you.


When seating by attainment, you have a couple of different options. One is to place a higher-attaining student next to a lower attaining student, and another is to place similarly attaining students next to each other. I'm a big fan of the latter, which allows me to target my questions at different areas of the room, as well as develop a system to roam the room where I’m not running from one side of the room to the other every few seconds. For some students, it's great not to be sat next to someone who has just completed the worksheet when they’re still stuck on the first question.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t use the former strategy. The theory behind this is that higher-attaining students are able to support those students who are struggling. Not only does this allow the struggling students to get greater support more frequently, and improve their understanding, but it provides the “high flier”' with a chance to be concise and clear with their own thinking and reflect upon what they have been doing successfully.

Giving students a chance

One strategy that I’ve tried and failed with numerous times is what I like to call “giving students a chance”. Simply allow students to sit where they wish, with whoever they wish to sit with. Students can do this, so long as they all follow your expectations. In my experience with this strategy, however, behaviour is never quite as good as it is when I set a seating plan, and so I always end up changing it.


A boy/girl, seating plan is very traditional. However, I find it hugely troubling for two main reasons. One, we are presuming the gender of students, which we really don’t want to be doing. Two, the seating plan is a hugely powerful tool in setting a classroom culture, supporting behaviour and allowing for targeted interventions, among many other benefits. Ultimately, the boy/girl plan doesn’t allow us to take full advantage of the wonderful power a seating plan can give us.

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Nathan Burns

Nathan Burns is an assistant progress and achievement leader for KS3, as well as a Maths teacher

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