24 - Oct - 2019

The importance of acoustics in schools

Investigating the serious effects of noise in the learning environment

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"Quiet in class."
'The importance of acoustics in schools' article by Oscar Acoustics as featured in Education Design & Build Magazine.

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'Sonic battlegrounds' in education

Schools are crucial for a country’s prosperity.  They are intended to be arenas of learning, debate and development, where young minds learn information and skills to equip them for the future.  Unfortunately they have also become sonic battlegrounds, under threat from an issue often unconsidered.

Noise pollution and acoustics in schools have a significant impact on health and learning, yet it isn’t always considered during the design process of a school building or sports hall.  A study by Jacksons Fencing found only 30% of specifiers have used acoustic solutions for schools.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation of 35 decibels (dB(A)) in classrooms for good teaching and learning conditions is unfortunately frequently exceeded.  A study in Germany even found the average classroom noise level to be 65 dB(A).

Pictured SonaSpray K-13 in Nottinghill Prep School. Credit to Hanson Architects.

Acoustics in schools

Davide Saibene Photography.

How does acoustics affect learning?

Poor acoustics in schools are causing serious health and behavioural problems.  Poor acoustics in schools will have a negative impact on children’s ability to learn.  One study found that on average, speech intelligibility in just 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?  Not only this, but noise has a negative impact on pupil behaviour, leading to poor attitude and unruliness.  With class sizes rising, it’s likely this problem will only get worse.

Significant noise doesn’t just disrupt lessons.  As noise levels increase so does a teachers’ heart rate, which causes stress, which can then 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.  Stress is a large contributor to this.  In the private sector, workers in noisy open offices take 70% more sick days than those that work from home, so it’s not inconceivable that public sector teachers are suffering the same fate.

Poor classroom design

Poor classroom design is something that affects teachers throughout the country.  Anik Hussain, a teacher in Nottinghamshire, got in touch about this challenge. “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 is a great example of how noise can ruin a lesson, without taking into account student behaviour, teacher ability or even outdoor sounds.

The damage to children’s education and school finances from poor acoustics in schools needs to be addressed.  However, human cost should be reason enough, as the consequences to teachers’ health will have a serious impact on life expectancy.  In 2011 the WHO reported noise contributed to 1.7m years of life lost a year in Europe.

SonaSpray fc in arctic white applied at UCL Torrington throughout the lecture theatres.

How does acoustics affect learning

Main Contractor: Structuretone. Architect: Jacek Grabowski & Festus Moffit (John Robertson Architects)

Acoustics in schools - the solution

To ensure environmental noise pollution doesn’t impact student learning and staff health, head teachers, school governors and local authorities need to put acoustics at the top of the agenda when consulting architects and specifiers.  Acoustics in schools should be considered from the start in any new build, while refurbishment of existing facilities needs to be a top priority.  Noise pollution and poor acoustics in schools is unnecessary and easily fixable.  Many acoustic solutions such as our SonaSpray reverberation control range are simple to install, cost-effective and will make a massive difference to children’s education and  a teachers health and wellbeing.

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At a school we recently worked on in central London, there was a room in which four classes were taught at the same time.  With the hard surfaces the reverberation time was extremely high, so you can imagine the cacophony of four sets of children and teachers all talking at once; teachers reported 90dB was not uncommon.  We installed our acoustic spray in under two days, cutting reverb time comfortably below BB93 regulations for acoustic design of schools. It’s crucial that we sound the alarm about classroom noise and encourage schools to take the initiative to tackle it head on.

Contact us

For more information regarding our reverberation control range for acoustics in schools or if you have any questions you can call us direct on 01474 854902 or fill in our contact us form and a member of our friendly team will get back to you as soon as possible.

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How does acoustics affect learning article by D. Mack of Oscar Acoustics.