All Inclusive Classrooms: How Quality Acoustics Affect Learning Outcomes In Schools

BB93 Design | Acoustics For Schools | Prism Acoustics | Birmingham West Midlands

All-Inclusive Classrooms: How Quality Acoustics Affect Learning Outcomes In Schools

Your school years are some of the most important in your life. Being able to look back and say ‘I enjoyed learning in that school’ is invaluable.

Our experiences at school aren’t just centred around our friends, teachers and grades; we often attach sentiment to the place we studied in as well, often reflecting on what it would be like to walk through that classroom, sports hall or corridor again years later.

A poorly designed school building will stick in the mind for all the wrong reasons. We’ve all been in a room in which we couldn’t hear the teacher or speaker because the space was improperly designed acoustically.

If we can’t hear in the classroom, it isn’t just grades that are impacted; it is also our experiences. For some pupils who are more sensitive to sound than others, poor acoustics can have serious implications for learning outcomes.

Prism Acoustics are passionate about ensuring that educational spaces are acoustically optimised to ensure that classrooms are perfect for all learners.

Read on to find out more…

Bigger Classes: A Growing Problem

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In 2017, it was reported by The BBC that the average size of a class in secondary state schools is 36 children, with some classes having as many as 40.

The figure for primary schools is just as high; The Independent reports that the state primary school sector averages between 31 and 35 pupils per classroom.

A 2018 report from The BBC stated that a shortage of “suitable special needs funding means growing numbers of children are being left without suitable school places”.

As a result, the number of pupils in mainstream schools with special educational needs is rising and ensuring that they are experiencing learning with the same accessibility as all children.

With the size of classes growing; so will noise levels. In a room with 36 children who all want to be heard, there is bound to be a greater amount of sound generated.

Speech transmission is the function of a room, not a person: if speech transmission is poor quality, everyone in the room is affected

Teacher’s voices will need to carry further, as the back row of a class gets further away as class sizes grow, pupils will have to speak louder to answer the questions of their teachers and peers, and more voices engaged in general day-to-day classroom chatter will cause ambient noise levels to creep gradually higher and higher.

For students with special educational needs, this noise can be a distraction. Moreover; it can be distressing.

For example; a child with a hearing aid doesn’t have the same ability to filter out all this extra noise going on around them as hearing aids aren’t designed to pick out the important sounds in the same way the human ear can according to Hearing Tracker.  

There are 35 other children making their own noises; fidgeting, chatting, banging pens and pencils, and a teacher tapping on a board while explaining a complex topic to their class.

The hearing aid isn’t filtering out all that extra noise; it’s picking it all up and the child trying to focus on their learning is at risk of becoming anxious or distressed because the sound of the teacher’s voice is getting lost among it all.

Poorly designed room acoustics in this setting would likely make this worse, as a high reverberation time will negatively affect speech transmission in the space.

The learning outcomes for this student will be negatively impacted as a result.

The Austin Journal Of Neurological Diseases And Epilepsy published a study in 2015 on the implications of noise levels in mainstream schools for children with special educational needs.

The study states that:

“For speech to be intelligibly heard, it needs to perceived about three times louder (15 dB LAeq,30mins higher in sound level) than the background noise.”

This demonstrates the importance of proper acoustics in schools. For architects working to provide all-inclusive classroom to all students, working with acoustic consultants who are passionate about championing these important values can be a huge benefit to their development or project.  

The Importance Of Quality Acoustics

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BB93 Design for schools lays out the requirements that educational buildings should meet in order to ensure that acoustics are at their best for the purpose of successful learning and teaching for service users.

Indoor ambient noise levels (IANL) for standard classrooms in new-builds should not exceed 35dB LAeq,30mins, (40dB LAeq,30mins in refurbished buildings). This means that students learning isn’t interrupted by noises from external noise sources, as well as other indoor noises from ventilation and air conditioning.

The architectural acoustics in school must also protect against noise from outside factors as well. This includes traffic, sirens outside and noise from children on the playground

Reverberation Time

The Advice On Standards For School Premises document lays out the guidelines on reverberation time in schools.

Reverberation time refers to how much of an echo is created in a room by sound. The shorter the reverberation time, the less of an echo is created.

Creating an acoustically all-inclusive classroom requires these factors to be taken into consideration. A short reverberation time is preferable for creating an acoustic environment for learning in a classroom.

A standard classroom in a newly built school should have a reverberation time of no more than 0.6s between 500-2000hz.

Short reverberation times help to improve speech intelligibility and reduce noise levels making speech clarity stronger. Considering these factors into the acoustic design for schools goes a long towards creating a happier, more inclusive learning space.

The All-Inclusive Classroom

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The sensory experiences of a child with special educational needs should be at the forefront of an architect or specifiers mind when designing an education space.

By properly managing the acoustic integrity of a school, classrooms become places that are suitable for all learners and educators, regardless of their education needs.

For learning outcomes for pupils with all manner of learning, requirements can be improved hugely. Classroom acoustics managed in a way that reduces the potential for loud, interruptive sounds disturbing learning, making listening and concentrating easier for all.

Speech transmission will be dramatically improved

Schools are busier and louder than they have ever been and ensuring that they are properly designed with all children in mind is the top priority of Prism Acoustics.

Prism Acoustics pride ourselves on providing excellent acoustic consultancy to all educational facilities, ensuring that they are in line with BB93 Design regulations, creating all-inclusive learning environments.

About Prism Acoustics

Prism Acoustics are leading acoustic consultants based in Birmingham in the West Midlands.

Prism work alongside architects, designers and developers, offering acoustic consultancy on a range of projects in the following sectors:

  • Educational 
  • Healthcare 
  • Residential 
  • Industrial
  • Commercial  
  • Sound monitoring and acoustic modelling for live events.

Prism is currently developing the next generation of acoustic prediction software, using virtual reality to demonstrate how the sound will carry before development work has even started! We can carry out environmental noise surveys and will work alongside you to ensure that your acoustic needs are met to the highest standard.

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