Technology, the learning environment and getting ready for the jobs of tomorrow

Antony Gatley, Regional Sales Manager – Education, KI Europe shares insight into how technology is changing the learning environment 

Why do we go to school? We spend our formative years in education environments preparing for our futures, acquiring skills and knowledge for later in life. Social skills to help us interact with each other, technical skills and knowledge to help us live and gain employment.

But in a world being transformed by advances in automation and artificial intelligence (AI), what skills and knowledge will children of today need for jobs in the future? Many jobs of tomorrow don’t even exist yet – so the often asked, and otherwise innocent question suddenly sounds a lot more daunting: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

As the industrial era continues to make way for the information age, rote learning, uniform assessment requirements and examinations are no longer fit for purpose and must be replaced with innovative new teaching methods.

To best prepare children for the new knowledge-based jobs landscape, education must evolve and transform the learning experience in order to nurture the skills that will be required in future employment: entrepreneurship in an age of ‘freelancing’; critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills; aptitude with creative problem-solving; attention to detail.

The proliferation of connected devices untethers us from our desks, whether at home, work, school or university. Suddenly, we are free to read, research, interact, write, edit and record, whatever we want, wherever we want.

So much of the learning process can now be done remotely and independently. Individual work can be conducted more readily in a setting that each individual prefers – be it the library, the park, a breakout area or their bedroom at home.

So, what does this mean for the shared learning environment at our schools, colleges and universities?

Group learning in particular must be catered for in the classrooms of the future. The traditional classroom can become the best forum for guided discussions, peer-to-peer learning, and mentoring – activities that are best conducted face-to-face, in an environment well-equipped to support it.

By talking, reasoning, sharing ideas, collaborating on group projects, accomplishing tasks, students will improve learning outcomes. Being able to adapt the learning process and environment to their personal needs will help them become more engaged, energised and focused.


How flexible seating can help:

Furniture and equipment can help to facilitate flexible interactions, allowing people to move around freely and direct their attention to wherever it is required. Clear sight lines and access to materials is also important, especially when students and teachers are no longer static throughout a lesson.

Choosing the right seating is an important consideration when adopting innovative pedagogies. Adaptable, flexible seating should be easy to move around so a space can be reconfigured easily – allowing constant transformation to create the right setting for the task at hand.

When moving from group to individual work, chairs on castors can further enhance the adaptability of a space. Stackable seating allows a space to be cleared for entirely different activities.

And of course, don’t forget the importance of good ergonomics. If you’re uncomfortable, you aren’t paying full attention. Movement within a chair can help relieve tension and discomfort and improve alertness as a result.

What’s more, having some flexibility can allow everyone to adjust to find the right view of their peers, their teacher and other teaching aids located around the room.

Teaching Walls are a staple of the modernisation programme at Hollymount School

Emma Pritchard, Headteacher at Hollymount School in Worcester, spoke to us about the benefits of teaching walls in her classrooms and why they are now part of the modernisation programme.

Teaching walls are now an integral part of our modernisation programme for classrooms as they provide a multitude of benefits for both our teachers and pupils.

We first came across Teaching Walls during a visit to another school; we immediately saw for ourselves the impact they had on the classroom. Most importantly we could see how the innovative walls addressed the very challenges we were experiencing at Hollymount.

We recently had two bespoke teaching walls fitted; the first was fitted in a new classroom that is being created for the new school year, and the second went into a refurbished classroom.”

This was on the back of a positive past experience of other teaching walls Witley Jones supplied around the school.

The walls allow our teachers to combine a traditional whiteboard alongside an interactive whiteboard allowing them to seamlessly deliver lessons using a number of pieces of equipment. This creates a more interactive and engaging environment for our students.

It is essential that classrooms have a focal point to help engage with pupils; teaching walls provide this solution whilst housing equipment and being modern in design.

In keeping with this modern approach, the additional storage created by the teaching walls allows us more room within the classroom itself. Clutter is removed and everything has its place behind cupboard doors, on shelves and in the tray units. Exercise books and other teaching resources are contained and can be concealed behind the sliding whiteboard doors to further enhance the appearance of the room.

The fact that Witley Jones are able to provide the solution to supplying and installing the interactive white board under the same installation programme certainly makes life easier for us as a school. The integration of AV and the furniture itself was seamless and we are delighted with the finished article.

Witley Jones donate lockers to Cotswold RDA

Earlier this month, we were delighted to donate much needed storage to the Cotswold Riding for the Disabled Association.

The riding school, based at Cheltenham Racecourse, had recently refurbished their kitchen and toilet area and were in need of lockers for their volunteers to safely store their belongings.

Dave Manser, our Business Development Manager, saw first-hand the incredible work that the volunteers do at Cotswold RDA during his visit to the riding school.

“It was clear to see the positive affect their enthusiasm and dedication impacts the lives of people who use the facility.

“It was only a small gesture to donate the lockers, but I am sure they will be put to good use.”

Cotswold RDA helps both adults and children with physical, mental and learning difficulties. As well as benefits in riders’ physical abilities and horsemanship the charity has a proven track record in encouraging the ability to communicate, build relationships and engage with education.

The charity has to raise £130k per year to cover the running costs and grant funding can be hard to come by.

We were more than happy to design, manufacture and install the lockers for the volunteers. As we saw for ourselves, without the vital help of the volunteers the riding school wouldn’t be able to function.

Claire Jenkins, General Manager, Cotswold RDA, said “Storage is always a big issue for us – there is never enough and these lockers really do look beautiful.

There is now a storage solution for our volunteers’ belongings whilst they are here giving us their valuable time and energy. Everyone here sends their heartfelt thanks for this wonderful gesture from Witley Jones.”

From Design to Installation – Bespoke School Furniture

Witley Jones has proudly designed, manufactured and installed school furniture for over 20 years; we understand the unique demands within the education environment and across school estates.

We thought that by sharing an insight into our manufacturing process, from design to installation, it would demonstrate the high level of care we take and why school’s choose us?

Here is an insight into the journey that involves…


After initial contact, we always try to come and meet our customers wherever possible. We feel that by seeing you in person and visiting your school, we can gain a much greater understanding of the environment and people we are working with and how you imagine it looking; from here we build a design brief.

We undertake a survey to allow our drawing office to provide 2D and 3D visuals, establishing finishes, layouts and numbers. If we are working with a building contractor, we request floor plans which allow us to begin drawing. The drawings can be amended as projects develop to ensure the end user has the best experience.

Once the detail is established we begin pricing and, together with the drawings, the quotation forms the initial proposal for your consideration. Quite often we give different room layout options or different levels of delivery and/or installation to allow you to choose the package that best suits you.


Our orders are ‘optimised’ and paperwork is written to ensure a smooth transition from computer screen through to dispatch. The specification is translated into Project Checklists, which are issued to the factory for our assembly team to begin the building process.

Edging banding in the machine shop

Starting in the machine shop and finishing in our brand new assembly factory, this process takes in CNC machinery, edge banding, sanding and spray shops, assembly benches, wrapping and labelling. Whether it be a naturally veneered finish using formaldehyde free lacquer or a melamine faced finish using our robust cam and dowel hardware, the same level of care is afforded to each item of furniture.

Assembly shop

Our multi-skilled and flexible workforce work to ensure your furniture is exactly how you imagined. Our drawing and manufacturing software works in tandem to ensure a smooth transition from our drawing office to your doorstep.


You may or may not have the resources to carry in and install your furniture yourselves. We have highly skilled installation teams who travel the country fitting furniture. Whether it be a driver only kerbside delivery of mattresses, or a brand new building contractor-occupied boarding house, we can tailor the delivery and installation to suit you.

All of our fitters have enhanced DBS certificates and we are CHAS and ConstructionLine accredited. Our fitting teams hold CSCS cards too, allowing us to work on live building sites and under the time constraints that many of these projects can involve. Witley Jones are well versed in this and pride ourselves on the level and quality of service we offer all of our customers.

Our fitters leave rooms clean and ready for use and will always seek your approval and sign-off before leaving. They then complete one final check to ensure everything is in perfect working condition before leaving you to enjoy your new furniture.

Witley Jones complete 3 Music Department Projects

We have recently completed three unique music department projects for The Hall School, Greshams and Bromsgrove School. The schools all required bespoke furniture to address a range of issues including safe storage, shortage of space and the functionality of their music departments.


The Hall School

The Hall School is an independent day school for boys in Belsize Park, North London with a vibrant and thriving music department which plays an essential part of the curriculum for the boys.

The school required furniture that complimented the music school and allowed the teachers and students to get the most out of their lessons. These requirements resulted in us working with the school to design an instrument storage wall, cello racks and bespoke keyboard desks.

We were firstly asked to design a bespoke storage wall with alcoves to suit each musical instrument. This involved counting and measuring all the instruments as part of the survey in order for us to design a wall that did not waste space and houses all of the different instruments.

This solution allowed students to safely store instruments and maximised the teaching space available.

Cello storage racks were designed so that the school could offer the students somewhere to safely store their cellos without them being left in corridors and other places where they were in the way and prone to getting damaged. The racks were on wheels to they could be wheeled out of the way for other activities such as drama and other lessons.

We also fitted out the music classroom with desking with integrated keyboard trays similar to those that we have created for Kings School Worcester and Solihull School.



An independent coeducational school catering for pupils from Pre-Prep and Nursery through to Sixth Form in Norfolk, Greshams is in the top 30 International Baccalaureate schools in England.

Music is a vital part of life at Greshams and All-Steinway Schools demonstrate a commitment to excellence by providing students and faculties with the best equipment possible for the study of music.

We were delighted to work with the school to furnish the newly built Britten Building which was the culmination of £6.5 million five-year project to improve the provision of music.

During the project, we designed and manufactured furniture for the 10 Peri rooms, 5 classrooms, the café and the private dining room. We also created furniture for store rooms and a number of offices within the Britten Building.

We designed several specialist music storage units to house all instruments securely and safely, as well as tables and chairs for the classrooms.

We also supplied office furniture for the several offices, secure noticeboards, a solid Oak bench seat and a private dining table. The table was designed in sections to seat 20 with sections being movable so that the school could easily rearrange this dining set up for less formal occasions.


Bromsgrove School

Routh Hall is the new home of music at the school which is used by the Prep and Senior school providing the ideal environment for the school’s musicians.

Our team worked closely with Robothams Architects to develop the design of the furniture for the classrooms, peri rooms and music store rooms for the part refurbished and part new build building.

A mixture of furniture was provided including tables, chairs, pin boards, bespoke keyboard desks, music instrument storage and fitted office furniture.

We were also asked to design and install 7 acoustic panels in the auditorium where students perform, which were mounted on the wall and across the back of the stage.

Epsom College Classroom Furniture and Teaching Wall Testimonial

During the summer of 2017 we supplied bespoke furniture for the latest phase of the refurbishment of the boarding and day houses at Epsom College which began in 2012.

“NVB have thoroughly enjoyed working with Witley Jones who are a very adaptable and friendly organisation.

The development of the furniture design was a truly innovative process and the engagement of the client was considered throughout each stage of the design process.

They met our specific requirements for each of the three areas particularly the level of detail involved with the intricacies in each of the bedrooms…

NVB have worked with Witley Jones on a number of projects and would recommend them to any school for the design and supply of their furniture.”
Bill Button, NVB Architects.

“Witley Jones provide an excellent design service and this is supported by a flexible approach to installation.”

I would definitely recommend Witley Jones to a colleague. Given the majority of work is carried out over the summer, and inevitably there are unforeseen issues that cause delays to the construction phase of the refurbishment, Witley Jones are proactive in working around these challenges, thereby ensuring that all furniture is in place by the start of term.”
Sarah Teasdale, Bursar at Epsom College.

Creating a Dynamic Learning Environment

Classrooms are now required to be engaging and practical spaces that create the desired environment that students thrive in.

When designing a classroom there are now a number of core factors that are considered including the intended use of the classroom, what technology is needed and the type of furniture required.

Years ago, the classroom was based on functionality, now there is a focus on the design and environments that are created in schools.

What are the requirements to create the desired learning environment?

We have found one of the most common requirements is space which is in short supply across most school estates.

Multi-use furniture helps to maximize classroom space and facilitates collaborative classroom learning with ease. For example, the desks and chairs might have wheels on the legs making them easy to move around, with tables designed so that the shapes fit together for collaborative learning.

This can be achieved through investing in furniture that is tailored to specific needs, such as a desk that can be altered to different heights and a chair that can be altered to provide different levels of back support.

Investing in quality furniture

Years ago, schools purchased furniture based on budget and how many students they needed to cater to. This would determine the quality of the furniture they could afford. To put it simply, school furniture was considered as a purchase rather than an investment.

Now schools are certainly seeing furniture more as an investment. They want their furniture designed to be long lasting and designed in such a way that it will still be fit for purpose for years to come.

Focus on design

Furniture can now be made to the individual needs of a particular classroom or area of a school and this truly bespoke offering means that it will be able to meet all of the schools needs and wants perfectly.

Items can also be finished in a number of colours to fit in with a design scheme of a building, subject area or school.

The finish of the furniture is more than the colour or paint that can be applied. In the past, we have found that imported furniture such as classroom tables, which tend to be cheaper, would have metal frames painted with paints with high lead content.

Gone are the days when dangerous, chemically-coated furniture and fittings were all-too prevalent in the UK market place. There is now a conscious effort being made by schools and furniture designers when selecting finishes to ensure all lacquers and sprays used are not only long lasting but also safe.

We only use formaldehyde free lacquer on all pieces of furniture because it’s essential that only non-harmful products are used.

Integration of Technology

Over the past decade there has certainly been a shift in how technology is being used in schools. There has been an increased use of technology in all areas of teaching – technology is no longer just used in IT lessons.

Schools are now looking for furniture that can integrate a variety of technology to maximize space, whilst housing technology safely. We have also seen many schools requesting that the furniture includes charging points with the increase in the number of devices students now use.

Epsom College Teaching Wall

Teaching walls are great example of this as they can seamlessly integrate a smart board, whiteboard and storage that is in keeping with the design of the classroom. By combining all of the furniture and storage into one wall maximises the space the available and provides a setting that can easily be adapted for multiple use and classroom layouts.

What is a Teaching Wall?

Epsom College Teaching Wall

A teaching wall combines both storage and technology through innovative design.

Often comprising of taller storage units with shelving and cupboard space, they provide excellent and much needed storage space in the classroom, hidden neatly away behind cupboard doors. A simple solution for getting rid of classroom clutter.

21st century classroom technology, such as interactive whiteboards can also be integrated into these teaching walls, along with sliding whiteboard doors to provide extra presentation space whilst teaching.

This innovative design works as the perfect focal point of the classroom, from which teachers can teach and focus their student’s attention to.

A truly modern and streamlined learning aid and the smart choice for all educational environments.

Why are they a great option for your school?

Teaching walls are a great option for schools, as they provide the ultimate storage solution for the classroom, maximising storage and teaching space.

Space is something that is in short supply in most educational estates and a teaching wall serves as the perfect innovative solution for this. With a teaching wall, the teacher has a central storage point in the classroom, which gives them flexibility to arrange the rest of the classroom in any way they wish (for example, moving tables together to create collaborative learning opportunities).

Not only this, but teaching walls also provide a great space to house all the audio and visual equipment for your interactive whiteboard and screens both safely and neatly.

Epsom College Storage Wall

We can customise a teaching and storage wall to meet your exacting requirements, so no matter the size of your classroom (height and width), we will work with you to design a teaching wall that perfectly fits the space you have available, without compromising on any features and elements you want your wall to incorporate.

Every teaching wall we design and manufacture is completely bespoke and is built around you.

Designing Boarding Furniture for the 21st Century

boarding school accommodation furniture

One of the main aims of boarding schools is to create a home away from home for their students with accommodation that is comfortable, secure and facilitates the use of technology.

We have witnessed first-hand how the requirements of boarding furniture have changed in the last decade and how we have evolved the design of boarding furniture in order to meet these new requirements.

A home away from home

Boarding schools are now working hard to make the transition from home to school as smooth as possible with the focus on creating a homely environment for their students. When students join the school, they often stay in dormitories to feel part of the boarding community in the early days. Older year groups tend to be given single study rooms to provide them with independence and privacy similar to that of university.

Although creating this ‘home away from home’ is important for every student, it is especially important for overseas students. Unlike students whose family live in the UK, where they will be able to go home quite regularly, overseas students are generally only able to travel home once or twice per academic year, so schools really do work hard to provide them with their own space that feels homely.


Students now have more possessions than they would have had in previous decades and these possessions are of high value including phones, tablets and laptops.

This has created a need for boarding schools to ensure the design of their boarding furniture provides students with storage space.

There is now a greater need to continually improve security and integrate this into furniture. Ease of use is equally as important as the level of security for students, we have seen safes and one key solutions introduced into boarding accommodation.

Integrating power and access to technology

Boarding furniture is now required to be able to provide power to each student as they now own multiples devices. Integrating power into the furniture including charging points and lights provides students with their own source of power which is housed safely.

The innovations in technology have also influenced how students learn and study. Students no longer just use books for study, they are often required as part of their learning to conduct their own research and assignments. Study areas in boarding rooms have also had to adapt to facilitate access to technology.

Summer 2018: A season full of exciting education events to add to your diary

ISBA Conference

Education events, conferences and exhibitions provide an excellent opportunity for those involved in this sector to build relationships and to discuss key industry topics.

There are several exciting education events taking place across the UK in the coming months. These events have been designed not only for schools, colleges but also businesses working in the education sector.


Boarding School Association Annual Conference for Heads – 1st-3rd May

The BSA Annual Conference for Heads brings together an array of headteachers and senior leadership teams from across the UK to look at all corners of the boarding school environment.

The three day conference is being held at The Grand Hotel in Brighton with an exciting lineup of speakers including Reverend Steve Chalke MBE, Founder of the Inspire Project, Vice Admiral Ben Key CBE, Commander of the Fleet, former boarder and boarding school governor and Bettany Hughes, English Historian, Author and Broadcaster.

We are looking forward to having a stand at this event so don’t forget to come and visit us to discuss how our services can benefit your boarding school.


Independent Schools’ Bursars Association Annual Conference – 9th-10th May

We will also be going to the ISBA Annual Conference, a two-day conference which attracts over 400 bursars and senior management staff from member schools.

The conference will be covering an array of themes from Brexit and future proofing school as a business, to the introduction of GDPR and how this will impact the education sector.

We have been an exhibitor at this annual event for 20 years as it provides us with an opportunity to catch up with schools we’ve had the pleasure of working with before as well as meet new faces.

This year is going to be particularly special for us as we would like to celebrate our 20th anniversary with both new and familiar faces attending.

Make sure you join us on our stand during the afternoon coffee session on Wednesday 9th which also happens to be the Chairman Chris Jones’ 60th Birthday.


Boarding School Association Annual Conference for Nurses and Matrons – 9th-11th July

This year’s BSA Annual Conference for Nurses and Matrons will be taking place at The Queens Hotel, Leeds from the 9th-10th July.

This conference provides people working in these roles to network with one another, whilst offering a range of exciting speakers and breakout sessions focusing on work/life blend, key policies and protocols.

This will be the first time that we have exhibited at this conference and we are looking forward to meeting the people working in these roles to learn more about the role they play in the wellbeing of students.

Summer 2018 is certainly a busy few months with exciting events catering for people from all corners of the education sector. Keep an eye out for us if you will be attending any of these conferences and exhibitions.