Legal provisions

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires the employer – so far as is reasonably practicable – to maintain a place of work “in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks”.

Moreover, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 place specific legal duties on employers to carry out risk assessments for all aspects of workplace health and safety. This includes assessing spaces for potential hazards such as slips, trips and falls – which would arguably be greater in crowded and confined spaces – and to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent or, where this is not possible, reduce any risks identified.

A key risk which must be assessed is that of fire. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires that “in the event of danger, it must be possible for all rooms and work stations to be evacuated quickly”. The employer has a duty under this legislation to undertake a risk assessment of the premises and give due consideration to fire hazards and safe evacuation. Should a classroom be overcrowded, safe evacuation could be impeded in the event of a fire.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a classroom checklist, which may assist in identifying health and safety issues which could be exacerbated by classroom overcrowding.

Furthermore, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 specify in regulation 10 that: “every room where persons work shall have sufficient floor area, height and unoccupied space for the purposes of health, safety and welfare”.

The Approved Code of Practice which accompanies this regulation specifies that the total volume of the room when empty, divided by the number of people normally working in it, should be at least 11 cubic metres. These regulations apply to employees rather than pupils and unfortunately the figure of 11 cubic metres does not apply to “rooms being used for lectures, meeting and similar purposes”. It could be argued, however, that this figure is a useful point of reference.


Rooms other than classrooms

Classrooms are not the only areas within schools to be faced with problems of overcrowding. Other areas can be affected in this way, such as corridors, toilets, offices, staff rooms and staff work areas. Many of the suggestions made in the context of reducing overcrowding in classrooms can also be applied to other areas of the school. If in doubt, members should seek advice from their NEU health and safety rep who will be able to bring the matter to the attention of management – it may be that a suitably ‘competent person’ will need to carry out a risk assessment in order to address the matter.


Sources of guidance on classroom space

In 2012 the government announced its intention to reduce space requirements for new school buildings that being designed as part of the Priority Schools Building Programme. The Department for Education (DfE) argued the reductions would result in cheaper, more efficient and sustainable outcomes.

Prior to the changes, Building Bulletin 99 set out that standard primary and middle school classrooms for 30 pupils should be around 70m2. However, Building Bulletin 103 (which replaced BB 98 and BB 99 in 2014) sets out that reception and infant classrooms for 30 pupils should be 62m2and junior classrooms just 55m2. Such space limitations automatically place constraints on the amount of ‘free’ space available in the classroom, the types of work attempted and the ability of teachers and support staff to engage and supervise effectively. For more complex design and technology, science or art projects many schools make use of shared specialist practical areas which can be accessed as required by all classes on a rota basis. It is less likely that such space will be available in older school buildings.

As regards secondary provision, the table below gives a summary of area guidelines for different secondary subjects depending on the activities taking place in them. 


Space type 

Recommended size  

General classroom 

55 m2 for 30 

General science laboratory 

83 m2for 30 

Specialist science laboratory (up to A-level) 

90 m2 for 30 

General art room KS3/4 

83m2 for 30 

3D art room  

97m2 for 30 

3D art room (textiles) 

104m2 for 32 

Constructional textiles room 

83m2 for 25 

Graphic products 

83m2 for 25 

Electronics and control systems 

83m2 for 25 

Resistant materials (RM) 

104m2 for 24 if one space, 97m2 if two spaces 

RM workshop with heat bay 

111m2 for 24 

Food room 

104m2 for 24 if one space, 97m2 if two spaces 

Music classroom 

62m2 for 30 

Drama studio/music recital room 

83m2 for 30 

School environment
Space requirements in classrooms

Overcrowding is a common problem in classrooms.