Why the Retro School Desk Is Making a Comeback in the Classroom

Do you remember the retro school desks that popped up in the classroom during the 80s? The ones with bulky metal frames that sometimes featured a built-in storage space. While the teachers of decades past may not have been pleased, the long-forgotten graffiti etched into the wooden lids evokes a nostalgic feel from a simpler time.

With the global pandemic causing significant disruptions in schools and learning, one of the most prominent challenges teachers face is retaining students’ attention after months of home learning. And to add to the mix, another difficulty teachers had to adjust to was the introduction of social distancing, an almost impossible task in a classroom full of 30 kids.

This is exactly where the retro school desk comes in handy; a specially designed piece of school furniture that does more than facilitate social distancing in the classroom.

A Brief History on School Desks

The school tables and chairs you see in the classroom today are a distant relation to the battered wooden school desks of once upon a time. Though, they haven’t strayed too far from the first-ever school desk, invented in 1880.

For most of the 19th century, school attendance wasn’t compulsory in the UK, and many children worked in factories or with families. The children who were lucky enough to have a private tutor used adult desks for their work because children’s desks didn’t exist.

John Loughlin is responsible for the inception of the single school desk, a smaller desk built with the size of a child in mind. Over the years, teachers have witnessed many redesigns of the single school desk. They gradually increased in size to accommodate the rising numbers of children attending school and group work in the classroom.

The 1960s saw another redesign of the single school desk with internal storage space for keeping books, stationery and of course a bag of sweets or two. These learning desks became commonplace in schools around the globe due to their cost-effectiveness and convenient size.

Making a Comeback in the Classroom

Since the ‘80s, school desks have become bigger to promote group work in the classroom environment. However, the need for social distancing and personal independence over the last few years demand that we consider the best tools for children to use.

Retro school desks have undoubtedly made a comeback since the pandemic, as children return to school after a lengthy period of isolation and home working. Although the lockdown restrictions have eased, we know it’s essential to continue practising some level of social distancing in the classroom, if we can.

But, apart from promoting social distancing, what else are single school desks good for?

The retro school desk gives children their own sense of space to develop and learn as individuals, all while in a classroom full of their peers. The minimally designed workspace encourages children to utilise their environment and prioritise what they need on their desks.

The retro-style school desk is also portable. Its lightweight frame allows teachers to reconfigure seating layouts as they need to, depending on the content of their lessons. Studies have shown that teachers who vary student learning environments get a much better response from students, as evidenced by their work.

Promoting Independent Learning

One of the biggest features of the retro school desk, however, is that it can play a vital part in helping teachers promote independent learning in the classroom.


Self-regulated learning in the classroom allows children to manage their own learning experience by working independently. Independent learning doesn’t mean leaving children to their own devices; teachers are still vital in furthering knowledge through classroom activities and practical teaching.

Experiential learning is another approach that requires the teacher to create real-life scenarios for children to react and adapt to. Teachers can use this technique to educate students in fun and interactive ways, like taking lessons outdoors. The portability of the single school desk makes it suitable for creating enhanced learning environments.

Has your school considered the benefits of the retro school desk?

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