Abstract The study reported here aims to identify the extent of back pain experienced by 11–14 year old schoolchildren, and establish the intensity, duration and frequency of exposure to physical risk factors present in schools. This paper considers the sitting postures of schoolchildren in the classroom. The sitting postures of 66 children were recorded in normal lessons using the Portable Ergonomic Observation Method (PEO). The study found significant associations between flexed postures and low back pain. Static postures and neck and upper back pain were also associated. This study has implications for schools, designers and people in the field of work related musculoskeletal disorders. Further research is required to examine the association between sitting posture and pain reported at different spinal locations.