How Classrooms Have Changed in a Century

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Modern classrooms may be colorful, comfortable and welcoming, but their counterparts 100 years ago were anything but. If you’ve ever wondered what teaching environments for youngsters were like in the early 1900s, here you go!


Classrooms a century ago tended to accommodate more youngsters than their contemporary equivalents. Class sizes of 60 were not uncommon, and pupils were seated close together in rows.

Often, these rooms were tiered like lecture theatres, allowing teachers to see pupils at the back with ease. Blackboards formed the focal point of the spaces and when writing was wiped from these boards, clouds of chalk could be sent into the air, making classrooms dusty. This mostly affected students who were seated at the front of the rooms.

Another notable point is that teachers didn’t tend to move around classrooms very much. Generally, they would sit or stand behind their desks or at their blackboards.

Teachers’ desks

Teachers’ desks were very different 100 years ago too. These items were designed to be elevated high above the floor to allow teachers to see their classes more easily. Unsurprisingly, they were accompanied by tall chairs.

The desks often had hand bells on them that were used to get students’ attention and, unnervingly for children, they tended to contain either wooden canes or leather straps that were used to discipline students. Corporal punishment was not officially banned in British state schools until 1986 and in private schools until 1999. However, the use of physical reprimands had fallen out of favour long before then.

Children’s desks and seating

The distinctive desks and benches that children used were another major feature of early 20th century learning environments. Desks could come as either singles or pairs and the items often had conjoined seating. Younger pupils tended to use benches that were attached to desks. Sometimes, this seating folded up to make it easier for people to get in and out. Older kids generally sat on chairs rather than benches.

Meanwhile, desk surfaces opened out to reveal a small storage area where students could keep their books and stationery. Some desks also featured inkwells, as well as indents for pens and pencils.


Because modern central heating systems were not used at this time, schools had to find other ways of warming classrooms and the spaces usually featured coal or wood fires or stoves. It was the job of the caretaker to clean and refuel these heating appliances and old exercise books were sometimes used to help get fires going.


The decor in these rooms was basic and austere. Walls tended to be plain and bare bricks were a common sight. Some classrooms featured artwork, such as paintings of monarchs, religious figures or world maps. However, unlike modern classrooms, it was rare to see pupils’ work displayed on the walls and the use of colour was minimal.

The here and now

Schools are very different places these days. Technology has had a massive impact on the look and feel of classrooms and these areas now feature whiteboards, laptops and a host of other gadgets. They also benefit from effective climate control features such as central heating systems.

Meanwhile, those responsible for designing modern classrooms have access to a much broader range of materials and products and the spaces also reflect a different style of teaching. Contemporary classrooms are often flexible in their layout and there is more space between desks to allow teachers and students to move around easily.

There are now many different desks, chairs, storage solutions and other items available and if your school is on the lookout for products like this, you can visit firms such as Furniture At Work™.


  1. Jessica Beard says

    As a former teacher, I have heard about a lot of these changes over the years. It amazes me how these teachers were able to overcome basic living obstacles to teach the children.

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