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Psychology of seating plans

There's no magic formula in a seating plan and no such thing as a perfect arrangement - but it is easy to get it wrong. Clinical psychologist Dr Asha Patel, CEO of Innovating Minds, offers some advice to schools...

Seating plans for a classroom are complicated and like so much else in education you need to define your objectives. You must think about the individual needs: -

  • Is the child with ADHD better sitting right in front of you where you can keep an eye on them, or by a wall where they only have a child on one side of them?
  • Is it best to have a child who experiences sensory overload in a quiet area on a separate single table or put with a small sympathetic group who may provide support?

Seating plans should not just be about dealing with incipient discipline problems but about making sure every pupil is going to get the best out of the lesson.

Here are some considerations:

Girl-boy-girl-boy seating plans are popular but if boys are surrounded by girls who are more able, they risk becoming more introverted and will achieve less. This is partly because during the secondary year girls are more vocal and have a wider range of language registers than boys

Mix up different ethnic groups. Often at the beginning of the year, especially when children are in year 7, like is drawn to like so in many classrooms there is one area where the big loud lads sit or an Asian girls' group or an all-white table. It is your job to mix it up, so they work together and learn from one another.

The 'naughty table' or grouping together children who are inattentive or, setting a class into ability groups is not good practice. Many young people who have behaviour issues have been lumped together as the 'problem group' and it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as they feel labelled and judged from the beginning

If you are worried about where to seat a child, especially one with recognised mental health problems, ask them where they would feel most comfortable. This is not about allowing the child to take control. It is about working together, so the child can access the learning.

The complexities of human relationships in the classroom and who sits where is far too important to be left to chance. Flexibility becomes the key to building successful seating plans.

There is no single recipe for success, many teachers have had to change their seating plan during the year.

This is where technology comes to the rescue. Teachers could spend hours laboriously moving bits of paper round a grid. As well as being time-consuming, it was not possible to share this information with their wider group, so the effort and results often went unrecognised.