Importance of good listening environments

The National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) has produced a series of resources 

to set out the simple steps that can be taken to improve the listening environment in schools, nurseries and other education settings. They give advice and information to education professionals, head teachers, Local Authorities and parents, which includes videos and a sound simulation.

BATOD Foundation endorses the resource. Here we quote from the advice to head teachers and management to make clear why it is important that a good listening environment is created and maintained - especially for deaf pupils but also for all children in educational settings and their teachers.

Why creating a good listening environment is important

Pupils access an essential part of their learning by hearing and retaining what the teacher says and through conversations that take place in the class. It therefore follows that the poorer the listening environment, the less pupils are likely to learn and retain information. Parents of deaf children consistently report their concerns about poor acoustics to the National Deaf Children’s Society. In a survey on barriers to learning in 2008, over a third – 34% – said they had concerns about the acoustics in their child’s school building.

The key benefits of improving the listening environment are:

a) Improved learning for all children

Recent research has demonstrated that there is a strong link between attainment and good acoustics for all pupils. Children can spend more than half the school day just listening, so good listening conditions are essential in ensuring everyone can access and be fully included in school life. 

Research studies in a wide range of education settings have shown that tasks involving language, such as reading and word problems in mathematics, and tasks with high cognitive processing demands involving attention, problem solving and memory are particularly difficult to complete in noisy environments.

For example, one study of 142 schools in England showed that there was a direct correlation between the level of classroom noise and pupils’ Key Stage 2 Maths results. (Shield, B.M. and Dockrell, J.E. (2008))

It should also be noted that a large number of children experience temporary hearing loss, for example Glue Ear, at a younger age when listening in order to develop language is critical. It has been estimated that 80% of children will have had at least one episode of Glue Ear by the age of 10 years. (Clinical Guideline 2008)

b) Improved learning for pupils with additional learning needs

There is increasing evidence that poor classroom acoustics can create a negative learning environment for many students (Shield, B.M. and Dockrell, J.E. (2003)), especially those with hearing impairments (Nelson, P. B., and Soli, S. (2000)), learning difficulties (Bradlow AR, Kraus N, Hayes E. (2003)), or where English is an additional language (Mayo LH, Florentine M, Buus S. (1997))

c) Improved behaviour

A report by Alan Steer, Learning Behaviour (Steer A DCSF (2009)) noted that the surroundings in which children work and learn have a major impact on behaviour. He stated that: "Architects and contractors should pay special attention to acoustics and lighting in classrooms to support pupil participation in lessons."

d) Reduced teacher absence

Research shows that teachers have more throat problems than other professional groups. (Gotaas, C. & Starr, C. D. (1993)). This is not helped by having to frequently project their voices over classroom noise in poor listening environments. (80% of teachers reported vocal strain and throat problems, 86% reported that classroom noise caused them problems, 49% of teachers had to strain their voices to be heard, and teachers were 32% more likely to have voice problems compared with other professions, and more likely to be away from work.


Bradlow AR, Kraus N, Hayes E. (2003) Speaking clearly for learning-impaired children: sentence perception in noise. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 46:80–97.

Clinical Guideline, National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (2008) Surgical management of otitis media with effusion in children.

Gotaas, C. & Starr, C. D. (1993). Vocal fatigue among teachers. Folia Phoniatrica, 45, 120-129 and Åhlande, &Rydell R, (2011) Speaker’s Comfort in Teaching Environments, Journal of Voice, 25, 4, 430–440

Mayo LH, Florentine M, Buus S. (1997) Age of second-language acquisition and perception of speech in noise. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 40:686–93

Nelson, P. B., and Soli, S. (2000) Acoustical Barriers to Learning Children at Risk in Every Classroom. Language,Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 31, 356-361.

Shield, B.M. and Dockrell, J.E. (2003) The effects of noise on children at school: a review. J. Building Acoustics 10(2), 97-106.

Shield, B.M. and Dockrell, J.E. (2008) The effects of environmental and classroom noise on the academic attainments of primary school children. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 123(1), 133-14

Steer A DCSF (2009) Learning Behaviour: LESSONS LEARNED A review of behaviour standards and practices in our schools. DCSF