School Chairs – the good, the bad and the Ugly


All school are not born equal. Some are highly engineered, some are quickly thrown together, some are in between. Some school chairs fill their purpose well. Others fail miserably. While the standard of school chairs varies considerably their importance does not. With more and more distractions vying for students attention its becoming ever more critical to utilise all that we have at our disposal to increase focus and attention of students. This is where quality chairs come in. Not only are they good for wellbeing and health – they CAN also contribute to increased focus… if you have the right chair. Here we look at the good, the bad and the ugly of school chairs.

The good school chairs…

A good school chair is not just comfortable, it should fit the purpose. To this end a chair should promote active sitting which has been proven to increase oxygenation and blood flow in the body which in turn increases focus, alertness and attention. A good school chair will move naturally with the user, following their movement into different sitting positions. For example a student wont use the same sitting posture to read from a book as they will to share and discuss with others in a group project. A good chairs “knows” this and allows for these variations in sitting. This keeps the students much more active and alert while they are also continuously supported by the chair.

A good school chair will also be flexible enough to adjust to many users. Schools are a mecca of hot desking. Every 45 minutes can see a new user. Kids come in all shapes and sizes especially when you have 5 or 6 years in the same building. One size does not fit all unfortunately. A good school chair however will be flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate the fully grown burgeoning 6th year as easily as the fledgling first year who has just arrived.

The bad school chairs…

If we know what makes a good school chair it’s pretty easy to deduct what makes a bad school chair. Picture the “stack em high, sell em low” grey plastic chairs which are (or at least were) ubiquitous throughout schools in the UK for decades. These chairs come in one shape, one size, one colour. Very easy for facilities to manage, easy on the budget for sure but hard on students wellbeing and ability to focus. With Backcare Awareness recently announcing that 1 in 4 secondary school students in the UK suffer daily back pain it seems these chairs have a lot to answer for.

A “bad school” chair is one that doesn’t take the user into consideration. It’s not flexible to varying needs and it doesn’t adjust to different users. Almost all single mould plastic, stackable chairs fit this bill. The legacy of bad chairs doesn’t end when the school day is over. A bad back or incorrect sitting posture developed in childhood can carry on for years to come. Left untreated this can affect every aspect of adult life long after the school days have been left behind.

The ugly school chairs…

It would be very easy to create a list or even portfolio of ugly school chairs in the aesthetic sense. However that is both subjective and unproductive. We should, in 2015, rather consider ugly chairs as those that depreciate our planet. You could argue that bad visual design does that but more important is the effect on the environment created by the product. Chairs made from cheap plastic in heavy industry certainly do not have good sustainable credentials. The cheap shelf price must be offset somewhere in the lifecycle of the product and it’s usually Mother Nature that is asked to compensate. The £ price of the chair doesn’t reflect t the true cost. The true cost of producing it is much higher only the consumer pays low and the planet pays high – it’s generally an inverse relationship.

Furthermore many cheap chairs are designed to be cheaper to replace than to fix. What does that mean for landfill and production? More of both unfortunately. “They don’t make them like the used to” is a mantra resonating around school basements for decades now. And its true. Cheap production means we budget for cheap replacement rather than longevity of service or lifetime usage. It keeps everybody busy but comes with an insidious cost. So next time you look at a school chair, assess the true cost of that chair not just the tag hanging from the seat.


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