Researchers have previously called for school desks to be banned to combat obesity. Now a new study says getting rid of sitting desks could also help children pay more attention in class.

The research found that when students learned on their feet, they increased their focus by 12 per cent. This equates to an extra seven minutes per hour of engaged instruction time, the study found. The findings were based on a study of almost 300 children in second through fourth grade who were studied over the course of a school year. Engagement was measured by actions like answering a question, raising a hand, or participating in active discussion and off-task behaviours like talking out of turn.

Standing desks, also known as stand-biased desks, are raised desks that have stools nearby, which let students sit or stand during class at their discretion. Mark Benden, associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, originally became interested in the desks as a way to reduce childhood obesity. Professor Benden’s previous studies have shown the desks can help reduce obesity - with students at standing desks burning 15 per cent more calories than students at traditional desks.

Professor Benden says he wasn’t surprised at the results of his latest study, given that previous research has shown that physical activity, even at low levels, may have beneficial effects on cognitive ability. Standing workstations reduce disruptive behaviour problems and increase students’ attention or academic behavioural engagement by providing students with a different method for completing academic tasks (like standing) that breaks up the monotony of seated work,’ Professor Benden says. ‘Considerable research indicates that academic behavioural engagement is the most important contributor to student achievement. ‘Simply put, we think better on our feet than in our seat.’