Acoustics In Education: Can Classroom Acoustics Affect Speech Intelligibility In Schools

Classroom Acoustics And Speech Intelligibility | Prism Acoustics | Birmingham, West Midlands

Can Classroom Acoustics Affect Speech Intelligibility In School?

When students enter a classroom and begin to study, their primary source of learning will be their class teacher.

If the environment isn’t designed to maximise speech intelligibility so that teachers can communicate properly with their pupil’s learning can be impeded and there is the potential for a serious effect on learning outcomes.

With effective acoustic consultancy, schools can be designed to maximise speech intelligibility and create harmonious learning environments for both students and teachers alike.

Prism Acoustics are passionate about ensuring that educational spaces are inclusive and compliant to allow all students the opportunity to learn in a successfully designed school.

Let’s look at how quality acoustic designs in school affect speech intelligibility and learning…

What Is Speech Intelligibility?

Classrooms and Speech Intelligibility | Prism Acoustics | Birmingham, West Midlands

Speech intelligibility is defined as the measure of the comprehensibility of a person’s speech within given conditions. According to Speech Net it “is the percentage of speech that the listener can understand”.

It’s affected by factors such as background noise and reverberation time, which is the time it takes for sound to fade away in certain spaces. The longer it takes for sound to become inaudible, the longer the reverberation time.

Certain spaces in schools have higher reverberation times than others, such as sports halls. These areas are often large, open and largely empty causing an echoing effect on any sound. These can cause distractions for teachers and pupils.

As a result of government policies, such as BB93 Design, have been compiled to layout recommendations to architects for the acoustic design of schools to improve speech intelligibility in classrooms and areas where learning takes place.


The Open Plan Classroom

As class sizes get bigger, some schools are moving to a more open plan design for their teaching areas. Large rooms can contain as many as three individual classes with basic partitioning to separate each one.

In these spaces, speech intelligibility is at risk. Class sizes are reportedly growing in secondary schools by up to two-thirds according to The BBC. With more students in open-plan spaces, each generating their own noises, the overall ability to understand what teachers are saying to them is weakened.

The Advice On Standards For Schools Document states that there must be “adequate speech intelligibility in open plan areas to avoid disturbance from adjacent activities” and that “the wanted speech can be understood.”

The acoustics in a classroom affect speech intelligibility because of the implications that it can have on how sound is transmitted in a space.

If a school is being designed with open plan classrooms, the acoustic integrity of the space must be properly optimised so as not to affect the learning experience for students.

A standard classroom, holding one group of pupils rather than three or four, is preferable for many subjects, such as languages, which rely on listening based activities. These spaces have shorter reverberation times which limits the risk of students missing key learning points that could affect their education.


Speech Intelligibility And Learning Outcomes

The UK National curriculum is becoming more heavily focused on exams rather than coursework. Success in an exam relies on strong memory retention of information learned in class and later revised.


If the classrooms where the initial learning begins is not acoustically designed for the recommendations of the BB93 Design guide, then students are at risk of missing out on vital information that they need for their exams.


Whether an open plan classroom or a standard one, if the acoustics in a space is not up to standard, the implications could be worsened speech intelligibility which then affects the ability of staff to effectively teach pupils in preparation for essential exams.  


How Can Prism Help?

We provide acoustic consultancy to local authorities, architects and designers looking to create educational spaces with the best standard of speech intelligibility.

Our acoustic consultants are based in Birmingham and offer expert knowledge around BB93 Design guides and building regulations that must be met to successfully create a compliant educational space where potential learning outcomes are at their best.

Using the latest in 3D Acoustic modelling, Prism Acoustics can produce accurate plans on how spaces will sound before construction work begins, meaning that speech intelligibility in a completed project will have been optimised from the very start of an education project.


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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