Acoustics - hearing, listening and learning: Guide

Ann Underwood, Roger Turner, Stuart Whyte, Joy Rosenberg, Pauline Cobbold, Gill Weston | View as single page | Comment/Feedback

Acoustic Standards and guidance

 

Here are some of the main points from the legislation and guidance on acoustics standards for school. The requirement that particularly applies to schools is Building Regulations 2000 Approved Document E which has the descriptive statements: 

  • E4. (1) 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.
  • E4. (2) For the purposes of this Part – ‘school’ has the same meaning as in Section 4 of the Education Act 1996 [4]; and ‘school building’ means any building forming a school or part of a school.

E4 does not have defined numerical standards, but states that the acoustic conditions and sound insulation of learning spaces ‘shall be … appropriate’. The Premises Regulations and School Standards similarly state that conditions ‘must be suitable for learning’ (see below).

These statements are open to interpretation as 'appropriate' and 'suitable' are not defined and may vary between school building sites. To help inform designers, quantitative acoustic standards for new and refurbished schools have been devised and are set out in Building Bulletin 93 (2014). Compliance with the standards in BB93 is deemed by the Secretary of State for Education to be the usual way to satisfy E4(1). The performance standards for indoor noise levels, sound insulation and the control of reverberation are mandatory, but performance criteria for speech intelligibility and rain noise are guidance only.

The School Premises Regulations (SPR 2012) and the Independent School Standards (ISS 2014) apply to existing schools. The acoustic conditions and sound insulation of each classroom or other teaching space must be suitable for learning. Building Bulletin 93, Acoustic Design of Schools - Performance Standards BB93: 2014  applies to new or substantially refurbished schools. Acoustic conditions and noise are important factors in a school environment. See the Impact of School Environments: A literature review  and The Effects of Noise on Children at School.  The Equality Act 2010  requires schools to implement an accessibility strategy for the purpose of improving the physical environment, increasing participation and improving access to information for pupils with disabilities and special educational needs. The School Premises Regulations (1) and Independent School Standards (2) cover nursery, community, community special, foundation, foundation special and voluntary schools and pupil referral units. The respective wording of each relevant document is:

  • (1) SPRs Reg. 7 – The acoustic conditions and sound insulation of each room or other space must be suitable, having regard to the nature of the activities which normally take place therein.

  • (2) ISS Reg. 23.D – The standard in this paragraph is met if the proprietor ensures that the acoustic conditions and sound insulation of each room or other space are suitable, having regard to the nature of the activities which normally take place therein.

The Department for Education (DfE) issued non-statutory guidance in May 2013 that explained,

'In a school with a good acoustic environment, people will experience:

good sound quality – enabling people to hear clearly, understand and concentrate on whatever activity they are involved in;

minimal disturbance from unwanted noise (such as from activities in adjacent areas, teaching equipment, ventilation fans or road traffic).

In classrooms, class bases and other areas used for teaching, this will allow teachers to communicate without straining their voices. In some types of spaces, such as music rooms, recording studios, open-plan areas and rooms where pupils with hearing impairment are taught, there are additional requirements that may require higher acoustic standards than those for normal class bases.'

Building Bulletin 93: Acoustic Design of Schools - Performance Standards 2014 is intended for designers and building control bodies. It gives the performance targets for compliance with Requirement E4 of the Building Regulations on School Acoustics that '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'.

The DfE published the updated version of Building Bulletin 93, Acoustic Design of Schools in December 2014. The review was influenced by the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSPB)  acoustic standards. The Priority School Building programme (PSBP) was a centrally managed programme set up to address the condition needs of schools requiring urgent repair. Through the PSBP, 261 schools were rebuilt or substantially refurbished to have their condition needs met. The new acoustic performance standards ensure all new or substantially refurbished schools in England comply with the acoustic requirements of the following regulations:

  • The Building Regulations

  • The School Premises Regulations 2012

  • The Independent Schools Standards 2010, updated 2014.

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The aim of the performance standards is to provide acoustic conditions in schools that facilitate clear communication of speech between teacher and student and between students and do not interfere with study activities.

 

There are now clear minimum standards for refurbished buildings and these new BB93 values are the minimum requirements for Building Regulations approval. The design of accommodation for pupils with special hearing, speech, language and communication needs often requires the use of alternative performance standards to suit the local approach to inclusion and the particular types of special needs. The revised BB93 states that 'the criteria given in the tables for spaces intended specifically for these pupils should be a starting point' and that 'an acoustician should always decide, in consultation with the school and an audiologist where necessary, on a case by case basis, what the appropriate acoustic standards are; and should produce Alternative Performance Standards to suit the particular needs of the pupils and the intended use of the facilities.' All school buildings are subject to detailed design checks and on-site inspections by building control bodies. BB93 also gives guidance on how to meet the acoustic requirement of the School Premises Regulations and the Independent School Standards.

The Institute of Acoustics and the Association of Noise Consultants have jointly published a new design guide for the acoustics of schools (2015). The 110-page document, entitled Acoustics of schools: a design guide, is designed to accompany the revised performance standards for the acoustic design of schools published by the Department for Education in December 2014 It is a revision of the guidance previously published in 2003 as Sections 2 to 7 of Building Bulletin 93: Acoustic Design of Schools.

It is now possible for professionals to establish, with a fair degree of accuracy, the acoustic characteristics of all its learning spaces using a variety of apps that are now available for both iOS and Android Smartphone operating systems. However, depending on their purpose, for example, reporting, SEN Tribunal evidence or design, measurements will need to be taken with a suitable Class 1 or Class 2 sound level meter. Once the characteristics are established, the school is then in a good position to decide what further action could be taken to help overcome any significant problems. It is important to involve a suitably qualified acoustician to advise on installing appropriate acoustic and sound insulation materials. Classroom audio distribution (CAD) or soundfield systems may help. Details can be found in Smaldino, J. and Ostergren, D. (2012) Classroom Acoustic Measurements, listed below under Further References.

Further References

Standards: ‘Building Bulletin 93’(2014)

Guidance: ‘Acoustics, lighting and ventilation in schools’ (2014) Government Education Funding Agency

Example of acoustic treatment

NDCS Resources and Advice on Acoustics/ NDCS Quality Mark on Acoustics

Do Scotland’s Schools Sound Good?’ Report by NDCS (2011)

Smaldino, J.and Ostergren, D. (2012) ‘Classroom Acoustic Measurements’ in Smaldino, J. and Flexer, C.(ed.) (2012) Handbook of Acoustic Accessibility: Best Practices for Listening, Learning and Literacy in the Classroom. New York: Thieme Medical Publishers (ISBN 978-1-60406-765-1)

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