Behaviour Matters looks at the benefits of considered classroom seating plans, since the layout and organisation of your teaching and learning area is a major factor in successful behaviour management

Ranging from the ‘sit where you like’ approach, to the carefully structured social or ability grouping systems, seating plans and layouts in classroom can vary tremendously. In addition to the social needs of the pupils, teachers also have to take into account the physical and behavioural needs of individuals. Access to equipment, personal belongings and storage, linked to the need to sit away from distractions (such as windows), are all important considerations when attempting to provide the ideal teaching and learning environment.

There is also a real benefit for cover teachers or supply staff, who may be unfamiliar with the pupils in your room, in having a reference for names and needs of individuals.

It isn’t necessary to have a seating plan for all occasions; in fact, for some situations it would be totally inappropriate. Unless a seating plan is school policy and should be adhered to at all times, then the choice is yours. Consider the positives and negatives of such an approach and then decide how you wish to structure your classroom. For younger children there are also benefits in using formal peer, social and ability groupings within a whole-class seating plan. Not forgetting, of course, that your own access and freedom of movement is essential for effective classroom behaviour management. Many teachers are now dispensing with the need for a permanent desk in favour of the benefits of increased space and less formality.

Your seating layout should take account of:

  • access and movement
  • individual needs
  • distractions
  • social groupings
  • curriculum requirements
  • safety.

Even when using an unfamiliar teaching area (which may have been left in a less than appropriate arrangement), take some time to arrange the seating to meet the needs of the activity and the group of pupils involved.

Don’t limit your seating arrangements to classroom layouts; consideration should be given to a range of activities, such as:

  • group discussions
  • one-to-one pupil meetings
  • parent meetings
  • staff and department meetings.

Practical tips
An imposed seating plan for a group of pupils may work, but a more effective approach is to involve the pupils in the decision making process, while factoring in your own knowledge and requirements for activities, including:

  • peer mentoring
  • ability groups
  • social groups
  • inappropriate pairings.

It is also worth noting at this point that you should make regular checks on the quality and current state of the furniture! Broken or damaged seats should be reported to the appropriate staff for repair or replacement rather than promoting a make do and mend attitude to the standard of fixtures in the teaching area.

Agreed seating plans should be recorded and made available to all staff teaching in the room, and should be consistently adhered to. The old, ‘Mr/Mrs X lets us sit where we like!’ or ‘Please, Miss, John isn’t allowed to sit next to Frank’ can make life both difficult and confusing to cover or supply staff. Your plan will make it quite clear what is expected and will put an end to potential confrontations about who can sit where.

If you decide to seat the pupils in groups in the classroom, these can also be used within your structured reward and sanction systems. Younger children certainly become very involved in some low-level competition when the class group is split into (named) groups.

When planning seating layouts for meetings, keep in mind the physical requirements of those attending. Try to avoid child-size chairs for parents attending meetings in primary schools! For departmental, agency and team meetings, consider arranging the seating in a circle or horseshoe. If possible, a ‘board room’ style might be useful if delegates require a table or desk.

For smaller meetings such as one-to-ones, arrange the seating at an angle of approximately 60 degrees rather than side-by-side – or even worse, face-to-face. Your intention should be to make discussion easy and effective rather than adding to the possible stress by creating a situation where eye contact can prove distracting.

Finally (and back into the classroom environment), at the end of each session ensure that the pupils leave the seating and desks in an organised and neat fashion, ready for the next group to use the room.

For more information and diagrams on classroom seating, check out our free classroom seating resource from Curriculum Briefing

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.