17 - May - 2021

A sound education

Public Sector Building artcile featuring Oscar Acoustics

Can noise affect health and performance in schools?

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Noise exposure weakens children’s capability to learn.  Ben Hancock, Managing Director at Oscar Acoustics explores solutions to control intrusive classroom noise for the benefit of both students and teachers in Public Sector Building article.

Acoustic concerns often surround venues such as cinemas, concert halls, or recording studios. However, when it comes to learning environments, the detrimental effect of excessive noise, both on academic performance and teachers’ health is often an afterthought.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends maximum noise levels of 35 decibels[2] (dB(A)) for good teaching and learning conditions in schools.  Unfortunately, this is often exceeded, as a study in Germany[3] highlighted.  It found the average classroom noise level to be 65 dB(A). Acoustic discomfort can disrupt the learning process by breaking down important student-teacher communication. It’s a situation that needs to be remedied fast.

solutions to control intrusive classroom noise - SonaSpray

SonaSpray fc in arctic white applied at UCL Torrington throughout the lecture theatres.
Main Contractor: Structuretone. Architect: Jacek Grabowski & Festus Moffit (John Robertson Architects).

Exposure to noise can impact on children’s learning abilities

Put simply, sound quality matters because pupils must hear their teachers in order to learn.  When classrooms are too reverberant, pupils find it hard to concentrate and understand their teachers. This inhibits the learning process from the outset.

Excessive levels of noise are often a consequence of sound reflecting off hard interior surfaces.  This particularly impacts younger children who need optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension, as their listening skills are not as developed.

A study found that on average, speech intelligibility in the fourth row of a classroom is a mere 50%.  If students can only hear half of what their teacher is saying, how are they expected to learn and retain information? With class sizes rising and social distancing measures in place, it’s likely this problem will only get worse.  In addition, unwanted noise harms pupil behaviour, leading to poor attitude and unruliness, often resulting in teachers having to shout to be heard.

solutions to control intrusive classroom noise - SonaSpray

Laing O'Rourke, Hoare Lea Acoustics & CG Reynolds.Blavatnik School of Government

Teachers are also vulnerable to classroom noise

Teachers are equally disturbed by unwanted noise levels in classrooms.

As noise levels increase, so do teachers’ heart rates.  This causes stress and can lead to serious health issues, such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.  According to statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) teachers in England are taking 51,000 sick days a week, costing schools an estimated £75m a year.

Anik Hussain, a teacher in Nottinghamshire, says: “Every Monday I teach lessons in a large room, with only hard surfaces and hard furniture.  The echoes are a nightmare, and I can rarely get my voice heard. I always leave school that day with a major headache.”

This exemplifies how classroom noise can ruin a lesson, even before taking student behaviour, teacher ability, or external sounds into account.

Reduce classroom noise and echo with quality acoustic treatment

Here’s the good news.  Noise pollution in classrooms, corridors, sports halls and lecture theatres is easily fixable.  The right acoustic solution will be simple to install, and make a huge difference to children’s education, and the overall learning environment in classrooms. 

Hard surfaces such as tiles, plain walls, and wooden floors will reflect airborne noise.  For a short-term solution, indoors, materials such as carpets and wall panels absorb sound, and soft furnishings strategically placed around a room can also become effective noise mufflers.

For a permanent, fully integrated solution consider SonaSpray acoustic ceiling sprays and plasters.  These types of acoustic products are proving increasingly popular due to their seamless and decorative properties achieving excellent acoustics without design compromise.  SonaSpray can be applied to virtually any substrate configuration, making it ideal for both new build projects or as a retrofit solution to an existing acoustics issue.  The beauty of SonaSpray is that it absorbs classroom noise instead of reflecting it, enabling schools to create calm, safe and inviting spaces that allow teachers to teach and children to learn.

Environmentally friendly acoustics

SonaSpray consists of recycled materials and natural plant-based components; these can effectively lower the carbon footprint of the building by sequestering rich stores of carbon for the life of the structure or application.  The SonaSpray range contributes towards many sustainable design and health certification systems including BREEAM, SKA, Living Building Challenge and adds up to 17 points towards the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating of a project.  

solutions to control intrusive classroom noise - SonaSpray

Dubbed by the press as the UK's greenest building, The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia was designed and delivered by Architype and Morgan Sindall Construction to achieve the Passivhaus standard and a BREEAM outstanding rating. SonaSpray K-13 was applied throughout to control classroom noise.

Complying with fire safety & school performance standards 

To ensure classroom noise doesn’t impact student learning and staff health, head teachers, school governors and local authorities need to put noise control at the top of the agenda. Acoustics should be considered from the start in any new build and should also be a priority for refurbishments of existing facilities. When searching for acoustic solutions it is important to look for those that are fire rated and BB93 (acoustic design of schools - performance standards) compliant. 

All our SonaSpray products significantly better the new fire requirement required under the updated Approved Document B.  SonaSprays Class 0 to BS476 and B-s1,d0 fire rating provides significant benefits over the new Approved Document B requirements by providing little to no smoke and absolutely no droplets, assisting in the safe escape of occupants. 

Always insist on obtaining a copy of the fire test report before using a product.

And finally, ensure that your chosen acoustic treatment provider assesses the project requirements beforehand to recommend the most suitable options for a healthy school environment.  We are Britain’s leading provider of seamless acoustic sprays and acoustic plasters for the control of noise reverberation in buildings. Having the most extensive range, enables us to offer a product for every project, design and budget.

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