As schools embrace the flexibility benefits of open plan innovative learning spaces, educators increasingly need to understand the role acoustics play in these larger spaces and the potential negative impact of poor acoustic control.
In schools especially, children find it harder than adults to hear due to their still developing neurology and lack of experience of predicting words from context.
“We would never teach reading in a classroom without lights. Why then would we teach in ‘acoustic darkness’? Speaking to a class, especially of younger children, in a room with poor acoustics, is akin to turning out the light” – Professor John Erdrich, Scientific Counsel in Acoustics.
In a classroom setting where comprehension is everything, it’s important to create an environment that maximises the signal to noise ratio, especially for those furthest from the teacher. Allowing students to separate the background noise from person talking.
The need for those responsible for managing the acoustics of learning spaces to address this issue is further enhanced by the implications of the School Premises Regulations and the Equality Act.
Children due to their ongoing neurological and cognitive development cannot always ‘second guess’ what is been said if they cannot hear things clearly. This can lead to a loss in concentration, impacts on learning and in some cases disruptive behaviour.
Poor acoustics can hinder collaborative working within groups of younger children and make comprehending spoken instructions difficult. These conditions can lead to significant issues for children with learning difficulties.
Requirement E4 from the Building Regulations states: “Each room or other space in a school building shall be designed and constructed in such a way that it has the acoustic conditions and the insulation against disturbance by noise appropriate to its intended use.” Building Bulletin 93 sets out the guidance for acoustic performance within learning space.
Adrian James, one of the BB93 authors, summarises the current obligations placed on Local Authorities or the School Client Body: The School Client Body is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Regulations; they consist of both the Commissioning Authority (normally the company, trust or charity which owns the school buildings) and the School Entity, which is the body having day-to-day control of the School and may be represented by the Head teacher or Governors.
For those responsible the key is to have just the right amount of reverberation. Reverberation is when sound continues to be present in a room because of sound reflecting off of surfaces such as desks or chairs. In general the greater the reverberation time, the harder it is for young ears to understand.
In a classroom, it is important to have a short reverberation time, but enough for the space to not feel “dead”, which can make it hard for students at the back of the room to hear.
The Department for Education has issued a number of building bulletins for schools relating to acoustic reverberation within learning spaces with a guidance of 0.6 seconds of sound reverberation for new build and 0.8 seconds for refurbished space. However the additional provisions for Special Educational Needs (SEN) criteria suggest 0.4 – 0.6 seconds should be the standard.
So how can those responsible for learning spaces combat reverberation whilst continuing to embrace the innovation of open plan flexible space?
Using portable partition screens with acoustic properties to enhance the learning environment
By using StraightWall Acoustic Portable Partitions by the Portable Partitions Company open learning space can be easily sub-divided. This can help schools and other learning establishments to maximise the benefits of flexible space whilst also ensuring they create the right environment for learning.
The panels are engineered and manufactured in the UK with composite acoustic honeycomb cell core panels, fibreglass sheet layers to both sides and covered in specialist acoustic fabric for superior performance.
They are lightweight and easy to move, adjust and store. When not required they can be simply rolled away for quick and easy storage.
For more flexible space partition solutions visit www.portablepartitionscompany.co.uk now and speak to one of our consultants.