General Construction 687 views Jun 15, 2018
Noise control in the school environment

It was once referred to as the forgotten pollutant and while some may think this issue is a fact of life, noise is an annoyance that can be bad for your health, whether it’s in the home, workplace or outside environment. In the world of education, noise can not only have a direct impact on teaching and learning, but for teachers, it can result in voice strain, hearing issues and stress-related illnesses. Good acoustics in schools should be a fundamental design element, so what are the challenges when it comes to creating the optimum teaching and learning environment?

There is no escaping the fact that schools are busy and bustling environments, but students taught in quiet rooms which offer good acoustics learn and behave better than those in noisy rooms with poor acoustics. It can be hard to avoid in certain teaching situations, such as in group work or in music or drama lessons for instance. Noise from stairs and circulation routes can cause disturbances to classrooms and teaching spaces. There’s also the impact of external sources of noise which can affect noise levels in schools such as traffic, aircraft, plant rooms or even the weather.

The move towards more open plan environments can also have a direct impact on acoustics as background noise and sound intrusion are difficult to minimise. With ever-tightening budgets, the uncertainty of class sizes and the need for private study areas, educational environments need to be flexible and adaptable, but this should not be at the expense of good acoustics.

Design guidance for acoustics in new schools is provided by Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) which is incorporated within the Building Regulations. It provides complex calculation methodology for the material dividing space to ensure each classroom or educational space meets the required acoustic performance. This could be ensuring the wall between a music practice room and a library was fit for purpose.

Demountable glass partitions have become an intrinsic design element in creating flexible spaces that can be quickly transformed and reconfigured based on the requirements of an educational environment. With communication such an important factor when it comes to learning, glass partitions must offer good acoustic performance in order to aid interaction between teachers and students, as well as improving study activities. Glass partitions can achieve excellent acoustics, particularly double-glazed partitions. Credible test data should be obtained from the manufacturer that the specified system meets the required acoustic performance.

When you look at the increasing pressure on the school estate and the conversion of existing buildings into educational facilities, the demand for good acoustics in education has never been higher. Teaching and learning are acoustically demanding activities, but well-designed teaching spaces - which have an attention to acoustic detail - will enhance learning and contribute to the wellbeing of both students and teachers alike.