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Why Schools are thinking again about storage units

Such is their impact in a modern school that designers are now having to think again about the role of storage units and other furniture items in an education environment writes Trevor Gillman, CEO of specialist fitted furniture manufacturer, David Bailey Furniture Systems – and it looks set to change the way our schools work for years to come.

On face value we are simply talking about humble cupboards or storage units, but think again. They rarely get a lot of attention, but they are vital to the smooth-running of schools and colleges, the welfare of staff and students – and make a major contribution to the smooth running of the education sector.

With pressure on schools to meet ever increasing standards and challenges, exacerbated by the continued threat of Covid-19, staff are having to work with units which have been installed for many years and which have become chipped or damaged, making them difficult to keep clean resulting in the potential for spreading infection.

It is also said that there are reports that teachers are frequently disappointed by the lack of storage space, particularly at a time when schools and colleges are being asked to be more flexible in their response to student needs.

Fortunately, head teachers have recognised the problem and are prepared to work more closely with leading manufacturers to ensure the delivery of modern solutions to meet the needs of schools in the 21st century.

Fixed storage units are now fitted with sloping tops to ensure dust is unable to build up and any surfaces can be easily wiped clean. Safety is also a consideration as staff could store boxes on top of wall units without sloping tops which would constitute a health and safety risk

Serious consideration has to be given to ensuring that there are no sharp corners or edges where students, particularly younger pupils, might be injured as a result of a fall. The right choice of colour – particularly in primary schools – and making the best use of available space is also a challenge – while at all times delivering maximum value for money.

There is no doubt that schools are striving to be more welcoming, but that is difficult when you have schools in serious need of refurbishment and where space is critical, possibly due to overcrowding and need to create more classrooms.

These changes also come with a host of other massive challenges. There are reports that in secondary schools, more than 40% of students are not achieving baseline standards; 44% leave without gaining at least five GCSEs grade A* to C and one in seven secondary aged pupils suffers from a mental disorder.

Of children leaving primary education, 43% have not reached adequate levels of reading, writing and maths according to reports from Centre Forum and research body Education Data Lab; 20% leaving primary school haven’t even reached the accepted standard in at least one of the core subjects and as with secondary, one in ten primary aged children also suffers from a mental disorder.

We recognise the problems but what has this to do with something as humble as a storage unit? Clean vibrant units provide essential facilities for teaching professionals, but more importantly, well maintained colourful units help to create the right ambience for pupils and have been shown to contribute to wellbeing. Modern units which, are easier to keep clean, also help to reduce the risk of infection.

This is particularly important at a time when schools are being asked to be more flexible than ever before with the ability to adapt – sometimes in just a few hours – to the rapidly changing needs of student demands.

The most important focus for every school facility is of course the students. This has to have an impact on everything we do in terms of designing furniture for a school environment where we have to ask ourselves one key question. How can we make the education experience better and create an environment that promotes wellbeing?

While good design, colour and materials all play a key part in this, it really all comes down to working closely with schools to provide solutions that individually work for them – and no two schools or colleges are the same.

It all boils down to one thing – it is the manufacturers and designers who are prepared to be flexible, who are willing to see how schools are responding to these changes, who will be the most successful – and that’s why it is time to think again about the humble storage unit.