Research into shoeless learning environments began as part of the Building Schools for Future Programme in 2003. The BSF (2003) was introduced by the DFeS as part of an investment into schools.
According to Professor Stephen Heppell (2011) the hypotheses behind the benefits of shoeless-ness vary depending on culture. The Chinese suggest the benefits are due to reflexology, Indian culture place more emphasis upon respect, whereas British research places the benefits on the cozy feel of home. For the full report visit: http://rubble.heppell.net/places/shoeless/.
Some of the reported benefits include:
- Children’s behaviour is improved
- Environment is much cleaner
- Lifespan of furniture is often doubled
- Bullying and aggression is reduced
- Noise reduction
- Children’s development is improved
Professor Heppell states that his research demonstrated that 95% of children do not wear shoes to read at home. Further suggesting that because “everything is going in their favour” children’s academic standards tend to improve too.
“The key to attainment is engagement and if children want to be there and enjoy being there, universally they do better. When they arrive late and leave early and are disengaged, their performance suffers. Kids with shoes on are less engaged than those without shoes.” Heppell (2011)
Podiatry research suggests that wearing shoes at too young an age can hamper children’s walking and cerebral development. This is largely because children keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot, because of the connection they receive from the ground which means they need to look down less. Walking barefoot also develops the muscles and ligaments of the foot and increases the strength in the foot arch, improves spatial awareness and contributes to good posture (Byrne). Conversely similar research has suggested that structural and functional changes can result from the foot having to conform to the shape and construction of a shoe, rather than being allowed to develop naturally. The younger the foot the greater the potential for damage. (The Foot 2007)
From a completely different perspective, other research has been carried out by The University of Houston into the Health & Safety aspects of wearing outdoor shoes in an indoor environment. The results of this research suggest that 39% of shoes carry Bacteria C (Clostridium difficile) a public health problem resistant to a number of anti-biotics, effects of which can reportedly cause bad diarrhoea and progress to colon inflammation when anti-biotics are not effective.
Another study by the University of Arizona found 9 different forms of bacteria including e-coli on the bottom of shoes. One of the professors at the university tested a new pair of shoes and found 440,000 units of bacteria within two weeks.
All of this research is indicative that wearing outdoor footwear inside does not demonstrate best practice in an environment where children sit and sometimes crawl on the floor, the youngest of whom often put things into their mouths as part of their development.