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Fluorescent lights giving pupils headaches

Children are increasingly being put at risk of headaches because of the amount of fluorescent lighting in schools, researchers claim.

Eight in 10 classrooms in England are fitted with excessively bright and flickering lights which have been linked to eye strain and loss of concentration, a Cambridge University study says today.

It claims the problem has been exacerbated by the use of computerised whiteboards and poor classroom design.

Mark Winterbottom, from Cambridge’s faculty of education, said: “The installation of whiteboards and data projectors in classrooms has been enormous over the last 10 years – I would be amazed if they were not now used in every school in the country.

“There is evidence that this equipment, coupled with excessive fluorescent and natural light, can cause headaches and impair visual performance.”

Dr Winterbottom and Professor Arnold Wilkins, from Essex University, investigated the lights in 90 classrooms at 11 secondaries.

They found that 100Hz fluorescent lighting, which creates an “imperceptible flicker that can cause visual discomfort and make it more difficult to read accurately”, had been installed in up to 80 per cent of rooms.

The majority added to the problem by having whiteboards and failing to control the natural light levels, with poor classroom designs or faulty blinds often to blame, the study said.

The Government has spent an estimated £50 million on “interactive whiteboards”, which use video, animation, graphics and sound.

Researchers said nine in 10 classrooms were “excessively bright”. Dr Winterbottom said that schools should make more use of daylight, and use high frequency 32KHz lighting which “does not cause discomfort”.

The findings, to be presented at the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association in London today, will be considered by ministers.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said schools should be aware of the safety issues, adding that information about the use of electronic whiteboards and lighting was openly available.

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