Identifying a sound environment for secondary schools

Lead Research Organisation: University of Salford
Department Name: Unlisted

Abstract

Under the 'Building Schools for the Future' initiative, all secondary schools in England and Wales are to be refurbished or rebuilt over the next ten to fifteen years, at a cost of over 45 billion. Being able to hear the teacher would seem to be an obvious design criterion for these new schools. Yet in many schools, both old and new, the acoustic environment is poor. The overall aim of the project is thus to improve the acoustic design of secondary school buildings, in order to minimise the detrimental impact on children and teachers of acoustically poor school buildings. The project would be carried out by an interdisciplinary, inter-institutional research team, consisting of acousticians from London South Bank University and the University of Salford and psychologists from the Institute of Education. The proposed research will investigate the effects on teaching and learning of different acoustic designs within secondary schools and classrooms. In the long term it will provide the evidence-base necessary to underpin measures to improve acoustic conditions in classrooms, and, in the short term it will provide teachers and educationalists with evidence to support changes in teaching and learning strategies for situations where acoustic conditions are poor.Acoustic and noise surveys of schools in urban, rural and suburban locations will be carried out to identify secondary schools with a range of acoustic conditions; these schools will be used for detailed surveys and testing. Acoustic surveys of classrooms and other locations in each school will be undertaken and other environmental conditions, such as temperature, will be monitored so that they can be controlled for in subsequent analysis. This will be the first wide ranging acoustic survey to provide data on typical conditions in secondary schools around the country. It will allow comparison with the requirements of Building Bulletin 93 (Acoustic Design of Schools) to see how many secondary schools meet current regulatory specifications. Questionnaire surveys of pupils, teachers and others working in schools will be carried out to determine awareness of noise and acoustics, and whether noise and poor acoustics are perceived to affect their behaviour, health or performance. A battery of cognitive tests suitable for pupils in years 7, 8 and 10 will be developed and these will be administered to pupils on laptops. The tests will be undertaken in a range of noise and acoustic conditions to reflect those encountered in the acoustic survey. The different acoustic situations will be rendered via headphones. The results of the testing will provide information on the impact of noise and poor acoustics on academic performance and, in particular, on the way in which children at different stages of development or different tasks (for example, verbal and non-verbal) are affected. The results of the project will be disseminated to the DCSF where they may be used to inform any future revisions of Building Bulletin 93; to educationalists; and to architects, engineers and acoustic consultants who are involved in the design of schools.
 
Description The project produced an evidence-base about how poor acoustics affects teaching, performance and learning in secondary schools. In 2010, the Coalition Government threatened to abolish most legislation relating to the design and building of new schools. The results of this project have been influential in persuading the government to retain acoustic regulations in both the Building and School Premises Regulations. Investigators were instrumental in the Institute of Acoustics' Sound Schools campaign which lobbied the government to retain acoustic regulations, and are members of government and industry review panels that produced the latest regulations in 2015.

Noise levels and reverberation times (RT) were measured in 185 unoccupied spaces in 13 schools. The results showed that the introduction of the Regulations in 2003 helped to greatly improve the acoustic quality of new schools. Noise levels were measured during 282 lessons and found to have a very consistent average of 64 dBA. The lesson noise was positively correlated with RT and unoccupied ambient noise levels. Environmental parameters were also measured (e.g. CO2 count, relative humidity, temperature and light intensity). Classrooms with mechanical ventilation had higher background noise levels than those using natural ventilation. Most environmental parameters were uncorrelated with acoustic parameters. While there is a correlation between LAeq and CO2 count this arises because both are correlated to the number of students and classroom floor area. A regression model predicts a doubling in LAeq, with a 67% increase in student numbers.

We developed a questionnaire to capture opinions of the acoustic environment in secondary schools and surveyed 2588 pupils and 204 teachers. Adolescents were reliable judges of their school's acoustic and the impacts of poor listening conditions on teaching and learning. Fours factors were identified: ease of hearing in school spaces, sensitivity to noise, the consequences of noise in the classroom, and annoyance to intermittent noise. Pupils reporting additional learning needs or speaking English as an additional language were significantly more negatively affected by poor acoustics. Pupils attending suburban schools in quieter areas with cellular classrooms rated their classroom environments significantly better than those learning in open plan spaces or exposed to external noise sources. Students indicated which rooms they found hard and easy to hear in. 106 rooms were cited for which acoustic data were available. The results suggest that the current standard of RT < 0.8 s for secondary school classrooms is appropriate.

We examined student's accuracy and speed of performance on measures of literacy, word learning, numeracy and speed of information processing under different levels of noise exposure. The performance of 669 pupils was examined in a balanced repeated measures design during exposure to 50 and 70dB sound sources. A further 319 pupils were assessed on the literacy measures in both 50 and 64dB. A final study examined performance of 793 pupils at 50 and 70dB in a noise condition which mimicked speech interference.
Overall performance was poorer in the 70dB condition, pupils read more quickly and answered fewer questions correctly. However, for some tasks there was a significant interaction with first testing condition, indicating that pupils who performed the task first in the quieter condition were less affected by the 70dB noise condition. There was a significant difference in speed of reading and accurate responses to comprehension questions for the 50 and 64dB conditions, with worse performance in the 64dB condition.
Exploitation Route The findings can also inform standards in other countries.
Sectors Construction,Education

URL http://www.salford.ac.uk/computing-science-engineering/research/acoustics/architectural-and-building-acoustics/acoustic-design-of-secondary-schools
 
Description The project produced an evidence-base about how poor acoustics affects teaching, performance and learning in secondary schools. In 2010, the Coalition Government threatened to abolish most legislation relating to the design and building of new schools. The results of this project have been influential in persuading the government to retain acoustic regulations in both the Building and School Premises Regulations. Investigators were instrumental in the Institute of Acoustics' Sound Schools campaign which lobbied the government to retain acoustic regulations, and are members of government and industry review panels that produced the latest guidelines for the acoustic design of schools in February 2015.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Construction
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description School Acoustics Regulations
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact The project produced an evidence-base about how poor acoustics affects teaching, performance and learning in secondary schools. In 2010, the Coalition Government threatened to abolish most legislation relating to the design and building of new schools. The results of this project have been influential in persuading the government to retain acoustic regulations in both the Building and School Premises Regulations. Investigators were instrumental in the Institute of Acoustics' Sound Schools campaign which lobbied the government to retain acoustic regulations, and are members of government and industry review panels that produced the latest guidelines for the acoustic design of schools in February 2015.