How we use classroom seating to improve our learning space

Damian Mitchelmore

Damian Mitchelmore is senior assistant headteacher at Tolworth Girls’ School, Surrey. Following an eight year career in education, during which he taught history and assumed different leadership roles across two schools, Damian joined Tolworth Girls’ School as senior assistant headteacher in 2013. His responsibilities include leading the Lower School which covers Years 7 through to 9 and the Inclusion Faculty which includes managing Gifted and Talented, SEN and EAL provision across the school, as well as overseeing the spending of the School’s Pupil Premium Grant. Tolworth Girls’ School uses online seating planner MINTclass.

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Learning environments have developed considerably over the years, and are certainly more engaging and exciting than ever. Our school is not complacent in terms of progress, and we continue to evolve, adopting new, more efficient way of working across all areas of the school.

Our education environment is particularly creative, and an exceptionally positive place for both the teachers and the students alike; a fact that is acknowledged in our last Ofsted report, and has contributed to attainment at GCSE that is significantly higher than the national average, and which continues to rise. We are conscious that to maintain our status, it’s crucial to push ourselves to the next level. We have already entered 2015 on a high note, with approval of our development proposals; two, three storey buildings, the demolition of outdated temporary buildings and a refurbishment programme for the existing school buildings. These advancements are in addition to other refurbishments that the school has recently undertaken.

Refreshing the student learning experience

"The ability to see every child as an individual is placed high on the agenda."

Inspiring designs across all areas of life at Tolworth Girls’ School is important, and our latest achievement in terms of classroom seating is testament to this. Our school also has numerous specialist teaching rooms that are particularly well equipped including: eight science laboratories that have recently been upgraded; design and technology rooms; art rooms including ceramics and textile studios; four business studies rooms designed to simulate open plan offices; two music rooms, three food technology rooms, and a media studio. All of this helps to transform our students learning experiences.

As a large, over-subscribed school, supporting a wide ability range of students, the ability to see every child as an individual, and to understand their respective needs and personalities is placed high on the agenda. As the school grows, this task becomes increasingly more complicated. However, it was one of the reasons behind our drive to adopt a more creative approach to classroom seating arrangements.

Additionally, we were also mindful that our historical approach to planning classroom seating was antiquated and did not reflect the school’s modern, flexible learning spaces. It seemed to have been left behind when other areas had undergone transformation. Technology has of course played a prominent role in the changes, and we began to think about how we could improve in this area.

The issues with paper plans

Most schools at some stage have followed this approach, and may still do today; our teachers would write their seating plans for the day on a piece of paper, or at best in an Excel spreadsheet. Whichever the favoured method, it was an inefficient manual process which demanded significant amounts of teacher time to complete. In fact, we discovered that some teachers would spend hours producing seating plans, which could easily become void when a new student joins, when one leaves, or simply when a refresh was needed.

A further issue was the inability to share seating plans with other members of staff. As teachers created their own individual plans, if they were then absent for the day, the supply teacher would not have access to the plan. Limited student information meant that it was not possible to fully optimise the learning, and also virtually impossible for the teacher to get to know all of the students in such a short space of time.

Smart seating

To bring the way in which we managed our seating arrangements in line with the rest of the school, we investigated how the process could be improved. We began trialling a digital alternative across three core subjects, and during this period we also appointed champions; one teacher in each subject area who provided support to the others and passed on all feedback, both positive and negative, to the management team.

It’s essential that our teachers maximise the time spent on teaching, and one of the ways to achieve this is to minimise the admin related activities to free up some time. This is exactly what the trial achieved. It was highly successful; everyone involved really bought into the process as they experienced immediate benefits.

"We also have the added benefit of being able to access information from SIMS via the resource."

Full rollout of our digital seating planning solution shortly followed across the entire school. We also have the added benefit of being able to access information from SIMS via the resource which allows teachers to view students’ key information such as target grades, whether they are low/middle or high achievers, and so on. For instance, information on students with complex social backgrounds was previously held in different pockets, not centralised. Now as it’s all in one place, so there is access to all the information, on a controlled basis, which helps teachers teach better.

The process of planning classroom seating is now quick, easy, and convenient. Across the school teachers have reported a number of benefits. It saves time was the main advantage, and it has also helped improve student behaviour, improve student achievement, and enables teachers to get to know students quicker.

We have been able to overcome the issue of individual teachers holding the seating plans as the new online tool is accessible for all staff; it’s held by the school, not the teacher. As we have made it easier for staff to learn who’s in class, it has also made life easier for our supply teachers who are able to view student profiles with their photos, and use existing seating plans.

Sharing information, such as student achievement and behaviour with colleagues across the school is easier and quicker, which subsequently enables us to recognise and praise students, as well as addressing negatives. Of course, teachers are now able to rearrange seating into customised groups straight away, so last minute changes do not create problems as they once would.

Today, having a digital seating planner also helps meet Ofsted requirements, and achieving an Outstanding report for our next inspection, is one of our aims. We are now at the stage where our seating plans help teachers and students get the most out of the classroom; our creative learning space has taken a huge leap forward.

Do you use a digital seating planner? Let us know in the comments.

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