School furniture has not developed in 50 years and must do urgently to aid learning and protect children, delegates at a new campaign launch have been told.

A call to action, Safe seats of learning, urged specifiers, manufacturers and education professionals to work together to ensure children can enjoy and benefit from much better environments, which would aid both learning and teaching, reduce the risk of recurrent back pain and recognise the different shapes and sizes of growing youngsters.

Introducing the launch event, Hayden Davies, Managing Director of FIRA International [Furniture Industry Research Association], said price was the overwhelming factor which currently dictated the purchase of furniture used in most schools, which contrasts with every other area of the furniture industry.

“School furniture has basic design and minimal development,” he said. “In all other areas, design innovation drives furniture sales. But in most schools, furniture has not changed for 50 years – how many people have the same kitchen they had 50 years ago?”

Keynote speaker Ty Goddard, Director of the British Council for School Environments [BCSE] told a capacity audience at London’s Royal Society of Arts that the BCSE had become an organisation of 300 members in the past two years, and urged those present to form a similar coalition to support the case for great furniture in schools.

“FIRA has produced a document which is so complex in its simplicity, and so simple in its complexity that it can really help make a difference. Huge changes in education such as personalised learning, schools for the community and the Children’s Plan will have significant implications for educational space planning, and Safe seats of learning is a clarion call for change. We need the same kind of campaign against turkey twizzler-type school furniture as there was against Turkey twizzler-type school food, and this accessible discussion paper will help make that happen.

“Poor ergonomic design affects handwriting, concentration and the general well-being of pupils. Furniture can do so much more than it is currently given credit for; good ergonomic design creates a sense of ownership and respect.”

Alison Wadsworth, Senior Designer at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, said Local Education Authorities are being allocated an average of around £10m to spend on furniture and equipment under the Building Schools for the Future programme of refurbishment in secondary schools.

“Schools often focus on equipment as it is assumed there is a direct link to learning and therefore, ultimately, results, but we need to get the message across that furniture plays a big part in the environment and the learning experience; it is just as important as equipment, buildings and other learning resources.”

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