The introduction of the new British and European Educational Furniture Standard, EN1729, for tables and chairs, sets the scene for the most important debate about school furniture in a generation. Based on the measurement of 1500 children around England in 2001, it was the first updating of child sizes since the 60s.
At its simplest, the virtually zero cost option of buying like for like, fixed height furniture, will allow children to be sitting on chairs and at tables with reasonable posture, providing that a variety of sizes (two in secondary schools) is provided in each teaching area and their use is properly managed to ensure children sit on and at furniture relevant to their individual heights.
Then again, it is appropriate with any new investment in furniture to recognise the benefits of good posture and ergonomic comfort in improved concentration and application. There is evidence for such improvements in traditional learning environments when the furniture design and quality is improved.
However, flexible learning environments, fit for our visions of 21st century education, require a transformation in our approach to furniture. For a learning space to be healthily used by every age group in a school (including adults), for it to allow movement and encourage flexible use, the furniture must be adjustable have good ergonomics features such as adjustability, be fit for purpose, be comfortable. An independent ergonomics certification system (FIRA Product Certification Scheme or similar ) will verify that furniture can deliver these attributes.
Whilst adherence to EN1729 coupled with good management of learning environments is a prerequisite to avoiding the charge that our schools are helping to create backache in children, the debate we now need is about achieving real innovation and flexibility, for a cost in furniture which merely matches what parts of Europe have accepted as a norm for years.