The 10 step guide to classrooms for Special Educational Needs

Inclusion is an increasing global topic. Creating suitable environments for pupils with additional learning or Special Educational Needs (SEN) now requires more attention.

Research/Case studies Education

Download the 10 step guide to classrooms for Special Education Needs

From an acoustic perspective there are many sensitive listeners that all need a good sound environment:

  • profound hearing impaired
  • temporarily hearing impaired
  • non-native speakers
  • ADHD and autistic students

In the United Kingdom a new Special Educational Needs classroom standard is being implemented. So how do you achieve it? The answer is a 10 step guidance approach to the acoustic design of a SEN classroom by British acoustic consultant Adrian James. Read it below, or download the infographic.


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10 step guide
  to classrooms for Special Education Needs

Step 1

Keep the room size down. Reverberation naturally increases with room volume, so large rooms need more acoustic treatment. Children with special needs should generally be taught in smaller classes anyway.

Step 2Keep the ceiling height down, for the same reason as above. Things get difficult at more than about 2.4 meters.

Step 3Use only “Class A” absorptive finishes – these are the most efficient and so reduce the areas required. However, the SEN standard also controls low frequency (bass) reverberation time, so you will also need some bass absorption (more info in step 5).

Step 4If possible, use dry-lined walls as these provide some useful bass absorption at no extra cost. The new standard also lets you include the effects of furniture and fittings.

Step 5A conventional “Class A” suspended ceiling tile is most efficient  and provides some bass absorption, especially if you use proprietary “bass pads” on top of the tiles.

Step 6Consider suspended horizontal baffles or “rafts" if you can’t have a suspended ceiling. These are very efficient because both sides are absorptive, but they are not great at low frequencies.

Step 7 Use wall panels. Whatever the ceiling type, you will almost certainly need some acoustically absorbent wall panels as well. At least some of these should be at ear height, so they should be robust.

Step 8 Find out if the classrooms have special demands around energy savings i.e. specifically designed Thermally Activated Building Systems (TABS) for classrooms achieving the SEN standard is difficult and expensive – but not impossible.

Step 9Use a 3-D acoustic computer model for the design! Conventional “Sabine” reverberation time calculations are unreliable for this type of room.

Step 10Involve an acoustic consultant! It follows that you need acoustics consultants who are experienced in this type of design. Get them involved early to advise on room shapes and sizes, and make sure that they test and commission  the completed rooms, so that we can all learn how effective different designs are in practice.