Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Pupils' chairs 'pain in the back'

Children in classroom
Many children's chairs are designed for 1960s bodies

Increasing numbers of school children are suffering from bad backs because of ill-fitting chairs, a report says.

The laws that ensure teachers get appropriately sized chairs and desks do not apply to pupils, who can sit for long spells on uncomfortable furniture.

Instead pupils' furniture is chosen because it is the cheapest available, says a report by former English education secretary Charles Clarke.

Many school chairs were designed for the bodies of children of the 1960s.

Also, children are spending an increasing amount of time in front of computers in schools.

Our children are likely to be spending thousands of hours of their school lives on chairs and at desks and tables where their posture is poor
Charles Clarke's report

Mr Clarke's report for the British Educational Suppliers Association on what is needed to improve the future education system said: "Sitting for extended periods on chairs that are of inappropriate size and that lack ergonomic design, and at desks or tables whose height relative to the chair is incorrect and will be uncomfortable.

"The Back Pain Association is convinced that schools are a significant source of back problems."

It said schools had paid little attention to buying ergonomic furniture for children, with the main consideration being the "lowest unit price".

Research dating back to the 1990s suggests the size measurement on which most children's furniture was based on the average size of children in the 1960s, when they tended to be shorter.

However, sizes have been updated by manufacturers and the report urged ministers to ensure the greater use of adjustable furniture in the new schools that are being built under England's school rebuilding programme.

'Astronomical cost'

It did however acknowledge that it would not be practical for schools to fill their classrooms with resized products.

Mr Clarke's report said: "Our children are likely to be spending thousands of hours of their school lives on chairs and at desks and tables where their posture is poor and the potential for damage to backs is great."

Back pain is one of the most common reasons for absence from work and its treatment by the National Health Service, cost to employers and the public purse is "astronomical", it added.

The report also called for computer technology to play a "full and seamless part" in supporting pupils' personalised learning.

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