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Chairs creaking under weight of bigger pupils.

Byline: By Shahid Naqvi Education Correspondent

Schoolchildren in the Midlands are getting bigger and outgrowing the chairs and tables in classrooms, research has found.

Growth trends show their arms arms and legs have elongated by an average of one centimetre per decade since the Second World War.

Coupled with an obesity epidemic among youngsters, it means the dimensions used to design school furniture are dangerously outdated and leading to back problems among pupils and affecting their concentration.

The warning comes from the Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA) and in the wake of evidence from Birmingham City Council showing that a quarter of schoolchildren in Birmingham are now over weight and 12.5 per cent clinically obese.

Levent Caglar, chief ergonomist for FIRA, is calling on the Government to ensure new school furniture meets new guidelines.

"We know that children have been growing since the Second World War," he said.

"In 1971 15,000 children were measured and there were dimensional standards made from that. In 2001 we did a smaller study on 1,500 children in England and found they were still growing at the same rate as between the Second World War and 1971 of one centimetre per decade.

"Since the last study they have grown three centimetres on average. Our study showed they were ten to 15 per cent taller not in their trunk but in their legs and arms. The implications for seat and desk heights was obvious."

Many educationalists believed the growth spurt in children after the War was temporary and a result of more prosperous conditions in the fifties, sixties and seventies.

FIRA's study, however, disproved the theory and suggests that greater general wealth and higher standards of living over the last three decades means youngsters are bigger now than ever before. Two years ago FIRA produced a new standard calling on school furniture to reflect the evolving body shape of youngsters.

Mr Caglar warned the impact of a failure to adapt to the changing circumstances would be seen both in terms of future health and educational outcomes.

"There are children already getting back pain by the age of 14. That can affect their employment prospects. Also, if the furniture is uncomfortable, children are not going to concentrate and fidget."

FIRA is due to meet with Schools Minister Jim Knight this week to highlight the problem and press home the need to make sure the Government's multi-billion pound refurbishment of school buildings does not neglect furniture requirements.

Birmingham-based educational equipment supplier Welco's educational product manager, Ian Girle said: "The new standard is currently advisory only and means that all schools have a duty of care when it comes to specifying new desks and chairs.

"But it is a bit of an unknown problem. But if you go into a junior school you will see a huge range of sizes. You can have a height disparity in one classroom of several centimetres.

"In secondary school there is even greater disparity because you have children aged 11 to 15. They are getting bigger and wider which can cause seating problems."
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 7, 2008
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