Good acoustics in schools and higher education institutions is vital. It helps children and young people concentrate and learn, and it protects the health of teachers and lecturers. In this episode of A Sound Effect on People, presenter Salma Cranefield is joined by Ecophon concept developer Shane Cryer and by Russell Richardson, of consultants RBA Acoustics and the Institute of Acoustics Council's Honorary Secretary to investigate why sound matters in education.
Early in the episode Shane and Salma discuss what's important in the design of a successful classroom, including acoustics, and why acoustics can be forgotten in a visual design process, to the detriment of the classroom experience for children. Over 70% of learning still takes place in the old fashioned way, by a teacher talking to their students, making a suitable sound environment vital. When students need to focus, it's important the teachers can maintain a conversational tone to prevent children's attention wandering. The physical environment has an important part to play too, and simple changes can dramatically improve children's behaviour and therefore attainment.
Good acoustics standards are part of the building regulations, via Building Bulletin 93, and all new buildings or refurbishment projects should meet those standards. Older buildings should also comply with the standards, and can easily be improved. Shane discusses how this was demonstrated by the Essex Study, a summary of which is available here. This was an independent study by Essex County Council, looking at the effect improved acoustics in refurbished classrooms have on the success of the learning environment.
In the second part of the episode, Shane and Salma are joined by Russell, to discuss the application of BB93 in practical terms. The classroom is a teacher’s workplace as well as a learning place, and well-designed classrooms can help to reduce teacher stress and health. Both the classroom as a learning and working environment are supported by compliance with Building Bulletin 93, an updated version of which was released in February 2015, having survived the 'bonfire of the building regulations'. These minimum standards are a step improvement on previous regulations, and include standards for acoustics for refurbished classrooms, children with special education needs, and introduce post testing. A full copy of the BB93 regulations can be found here.
But with pressure to shave money from construction budgets, and a lack of a depth of understanding among construction professionals, parents and teachers, there is a risk that acoustics may be compromised at the cost of children's education.
Yet small changes can make a big difference, and acoustic treatments are simple to install. All schools that undergo refurbishment or new build projects need to comply with the BB93 standard. Testing is however not yet mandatory - and this is something that needs to happen to really drive compliance and improvement. This can be seen in the government's current Priority build schools programme, which insists on 20% of the spaces being tested for compliance, and should be included in the next round of building regulation improvements. For a guide to the current education standards mentioned in the podcast, download our whitepaper here.
If you have any questions please continue the discussion on Twitter, Shane can be reached @shanecryer, and RBA Acoustics are @RBAacoustics.