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What can schools do to improve listening conditions?

Photo: Use these tips to make sure your school's listening conditions are appropriate for deaf children

Good listening conditions in education settings are important for a number of reasons. You can find more information on why creating a good listening environment is important here.

If you are looking to improve listening conditions in your educational environment you can use this document to help you carry out an initial survey of the listening environment and identify any problem areas. You can also use this document to get feedback from the deaf student.

You may decide the school needs to conduct a more in-depth survey of a particular area. If this is the case then make sure you consult an educational audiologist or Teacher of the Deaf and take their advice about employing an acoustic consultant or acoustical engineer to look in to the problem areas and make recommendations.

Examples of recommendations might include:

  • changing the ceiling tiles: they ideally need to be ‘Class A’ absorbers to bring the reverberation down to the right level over at least half of the ceiling area
  • adding acoustically absorbent panels to walls or suspending the panels from the ceiling (these can be sourced in interesting shapes like clouds)
  • adding rubber compression seals to doors if noise coming into the classroom is a problem.

We have a collection of resources that will help assess and improve listening conditions in learning environments.

You can download the resources below:

Manage listening conditions

Use these checklists to make sure teachers in your school take steps to improve listening conditions for all pupils.

Make improvements during maintenance and refurbishments

Ongoing refurbishments are a chance to improve the acoustic conditions of your school and you can also incorporate them into the regular maintenance programme so that standards improve over time.

Taking the actions below will help to improve listening conditions. An acoustic consultant or acoustical engineer can give you advice on each of these steps.

Internal doors

Doors can reduce the transfer of sound between spaces, with solid doors being more effective than lighter doors with thin glazed panels. You can also add acoustic seals to get the most out of doors for the lowest cost and improve lighter doors by adding plywood facings (if the hinges are strong enough to support the weight).

External doors 

It’s difficult to insulate sounds with a single door, and harder still with double doors. Two sets of doors with a lobby in between are most effective. If there is only a single door between the teaching space and the outside environment then it should be at least 44mm thick with good sound insulation qualities. There should be good sealing around the door and glazing of more than 6mm thickness.

Walls 

Add acoustically absorbent wall finishes to improve reverberation times. Using fabric wall hangings can also help.

Windows

The sound insulation of external windows is determined by the frame, the sealing and the thickness of the glazing. Replacing the windows may therefore help with sound insulation.

Flooring

Noise from footfall transfers vertically and this can be an issue in multi-storey school buildings, particularly those with hard floor finishes. Carpets are not always practical but there are other solutions including acoustic vinyl flooring or vinyl flooring on acoustic resilient matting. Another possibility is installing a floor which has this solution integrated, on top of an existing floor.

Ceilings 

Standard sized tiles on ceiling grids can be replaced with acoustically absorptive tiles. This can be a cost-effective way of reducing reverberation, in combination with acoustic clouds or materials if that solution is not an option.

Open plan classrooms

Open plan rooms can be challenging spaces to work with, but you can make improvements by creating ‘snug areas’ using furniture such as bookcases and cupboards as partitions. Carpeted floors and acoustically treated ceilings will help prevent ‘acoustic build-up’, as can full height double partitions with a significant cavity of air in between.

Corridors and stairs 

Noise from corridors, stairs and other circulation areas can create problems in surrounding areas. Carpets help but can be difficult to clean so you may want to use more resilient materials such as cork and acoustic vinyl. You can improve noise from corridors by introducing acoustically treated ceilings and high level wall finishes.

Kitchens 

Good quality, well insulated roller shutters can help eliminate noise from kitchens and minimise disruption to teaching activities in the hall. Fitting doors in front of the shutter can also improve sound insulation and create a buffer zone.

External noise

You can reduce the noise of traffic in ground floor classrooms by using noise barriers on the boundary of the building. The barrier will need to be a continuous wooden fence with a mass of 10kg/sq m and high enough to break line of sight with the road. In addition, landscaping mounds or bunds use soil to create a barrier between the school site and the road. For these to have an effect they need to extend the full length of the site so the noise doesn’t spill around the edges. Trees and hedges won’t stop noise on their own.

Make sure new buildings are compliant 

If your school receives capital funding for new buildings or refurbishments, make sure that they comply with the minimum . In many cases testing will be a condition of government funding.

Make sure you test acoustics before the school opens, as it needs to be done in an unoccupied state. It can be more expensive to remedy poor acoustics after a school has opened so, even if it isn’t required, acoustic testing can be an effective way of identifying any problems and reduces costs of putting things right.

Temporary and adapted buildings 

Acoustic standards will still apply to any temporary or adapted buildings so check that they have been taken into account.

The Essex study – good classroom acoustics for all

 

Sweyne Park School, a secondary school with a large resource base for deaf students, was selected for a study which aimed to find out the impact of changes to acoustics on pupils and teachers. David Canning of Hear2Learn carried out the research work from March to July 2009.

The findings showed that improving the acoustics had a direct impact on noise levels in classrooms, without making any changes to teaching styles or classroom practice. There was also a significant and valuable increase in signal to noise ratios. 

Alongside these changes, teachers also reported sometimes dramatic improvements in classroom behaviour, with deaf children stating that they were better included in the classroom, and able to participate in the same way as their hearing peers. 

More information

You can download the commissioner’s report here and there is also a summary is also available here.