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Flexible Seating – Can it Work?

Flexible seating? Can it work? Adam Watkins blogs about how he got his pupils to ‘buy into it’ and how he set up their ground rules. As he describes, is it not worth a try?

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If you are anything like me I like to alter the seating plan in my classroom quite often throughout the year so that I’m looking for the best possible fit for pupil engagement and to get the best out of them. Of course there any many other reasons for this such as behaviour management and to avoid any unnecessary quarrels and arguments from individuals.

I like to involve the pupils as much as possible in the seating arrangement to get their buy in and support and to help them realise why we have the plan etc.
In the past I have tried a range of seating arrangements such as in big groups, smaller groups, pairs, individual desks and a horse shoe! Each one has its benefits but I always prefer children sitting in small groups purely for the social side of things and for peer support.

After a bit of networking and further research I heard of flexible seating and wasn’t sold on the idea at all at first as it already started to aggravate my OCD!  However, as I like to try new things I decided to give it a try. If it didn’t work I could of course revert back to the old seating plan.

As I had a year 5/6 class I thought that the flexible seating plan might aid the transition for the Year 6 pupils on their way to the comprehensive school as from my understanding they are not always told where to sit and many classes don’t allocate seats. I pitched the idea to the class and they loved it! I think the idea that they could sit anywhere they liked during a lesson sold it. I remember the excitable whispering about Sir finally losing it and letting them sit with their friends!

I lay the law straight down I must tell you and everyone had to pull together and stick to the agreement before we started flexible seating. We came up with a clear plan, it was recorded for evidence and future reference.

The class came up with the idea that they could choose their own seat for each lesson once they’d shown that they were responsible, on task and respectful of others’ working. I encouraged them to think carefully about the best location for different lessons, for example, during a Maths lesson why not sit near the front it you’re not too confident with it yet. I suggested they think about their peers and if they know that someone can help them along and build them up in a subject area then maybe sit next to or near them. In fairness I had a very sensible class and they knew my expectations well.

In order for the flexible seating to be a success and to remain our seating arrangement for the term ahead children had to show that they could:

  • remain on task and complete the work to the best of their ability
  • Complete work to the same high standard as before
  • Keep their work area neat and tidy and clear everything up at the end of each lesson
  • Be considerate of other pupils

I tended to focus on the positives and give the benefit of the doubt as it was a new and exciting seating plan but pupils knew that this would not work if they started distracting others, did not complete work to a pleasing standard, saved seats for their friends therefore stopping a classmate choosing their own seat.

We started the flexible seating plan second week of the summer term. Children were expected to come in to class, choose a seat and settle down right away with minimal fuss or disruption to anyone else. They were amazing! There was a lot of flexibility with this seating arrangement and if pupils felt comfortable working in the reading corner, on the carpet or standing up that was fine.

Fortunately, the Head of my previous school was very open about trying new things out in classrooms and encouraged us to do so as long as it was having a positive impact on learning and standards. I believe it was as children were in control and wanted to work hard to keep the flexible seating plan going. Of course there were times where we had to go back to the original plan for a few days but then we would start again and try harder.

To make it even more interesting you can add some fun and interesting seating to your classroom such as bean bags, stools, deck chairs etc. These things of course only add to aesthetics of the classroom and I believe that the flexible seating plan can work under any  means as long as children are actively involved, enjoying and getting the most out of it!

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The author

Adam started his career after graduating from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David where he studied Primary Education. He has taught in Wales and overseas including Dubai and Malaysia where he taught in large private schools across primary and secondary. Adam returned to Wales a few years ago with his wife to start a family and is continuing his career as a Primary teacher and Learning Coach. He is an author and contributor to the Times Education Supplement and enjoys spending time travelling with his family and playing tennis. He is also passionate about curriculum development and innovative learning.

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