Picture the scene. You walk into a department store to choose a new bed. You’re greeted by a helpful member of staff in a welcoming and well-designed showroom where everything is laid out for you to test and try. You’re able to make the right choice with ease and you leave happy.
Now apply the same to students walking into their school, college or university. Think of them as customers. How do you give them the best experience? By making sure there’s a helpful and engaging teacher, a welcoming fit for purpose environment and all the resources they need to learn.
Over the last 10 years the education sector has come a long way on this path, realising that beige uniform classroom after beige uniform classroom is no way to engage students, nor are they suited to the more modern, collaborative and technology-enabled methods of teaching in use today.
Our schools, colleges and universities have become much more open learning environments – where learning is achieved outside the formality of classrooms and lecture halls as well as within them. Today’s students expect more dynamic, interesting and well-designed spaces, yet the furniture that occupies them is often lagging behind, with practicality and price winning over performance.
Plastic bucket chairs are perhaps the most ubiquitous piece of education furniture – selected because they’re easy to stack, are super durable and provide economies of scale when bought in bulk. But these aren’t suited to every type of learning and they’re certainly not inspiring.
So inspiring furniture might sound a stretch – but the truth is that the right furniture can provide as much positive stimulus as the spaces they inhabit. Modern education design requires a more diverse range of spaces to support different learning methods as well as subjects. So breakout spaces support teamwork; mobile furniture allows teachers to quickly reconfigure spaces within a lesson not just the day; private hubs support solo study; study pods facilitate group work and soft, comfortable chairs and tables create social areas.
You can see straight away that all of these spaces require different furniture. In fact, as well as creating areas of visual interest, it is the furniture that helps to tell the students what is expected of them in those spaces. So an area for informal teamwork might benefit from more relaxed furniture, a large table and plenty of power points for students’ multiple devices. Multi-purpose rooms only work if tables have castors so they can be moved easily, or that chairs can be regrouped or stacked without hassle.
Take the Grove House Primary School in Bradford, the first in Europe to trial sit stand desks on castors. Students were empowered to change the height of the desk to suit them and the absence of chairs means they benefit from being less sedentary throughout the school day. The castors gave the teacher much needed flexibility, so children could move their desks into group formation for projects and then back for lone working with ease. It will be interesting to see if the results of the trial, in both behavioural, teaching and health terms, prompts an influx of sit stand solutions in the country’s classrooms.
When designing education environments it’s important to think of each distinct area having its own set of unique needs. While it might be tempting to use the same furniture everywhere for value or consistency, concentrate instead on how different design and furniture can deliver heightened productivity and improved morale among your teachers and students. Let your furniture choices add to the aesthetic and pique the interest of your learners.
As the world puts its focus on creating work-ready, tech-intuitive youngsters, it is the education system’s job to give them the richest learning experiences possible and to broaden their minds and horizons. There is no doubt that the quality of teaching and the breadth of resource at their disposal takes the lion’s share of this responsibility – but the power of creative, inspiring learning environments and the furniture that shapes them, must not be overlooked.
To find out more about the education revolution, download our whitepaper When Education and the Workplace Collide, which is full of guidance and advice: