Refusal to listen on acoustics

30th January 2009 at 00:00
Even new builds ignore guidance, leaving deaf children - and many others - at a loss

Thousands of children are being "condemned to underachievement" because of poor acoustics even in newly built schools, the National Deaf Children's Society has warned.

Brian Gale, its chief executive, said less than 40 per cent of speech was intelligible to deaf children in existing schools, but that "all children, not just deaf children" were being affected by the failure to meet minimum building standards in supposedly state-of-the-art schools.

"New schools should be complying with this guidance," he told The TES. "But we have growing evidence that listening environments in new buildings are not taking into account the acoustics guidance."

Mr Gale said that the Government's Pounds 45 billion Building Schools for the Future scheme was the perfect opportunity to tackle the issue, but he remained sceptical: "We very much doubt whether we will be able to get a cast-iron guarantee from schools minister Jim Knight that all schools are complying with the building acoustics guidance. But, given the lifespan of these new buildings, by not creating good learning environments with sufficient acoustics, we are condemning thousands of children to underachievement."

According to statistics from the society, more than 80 per cent of deaf children are educated in mainstream schools. But many other pupils are also affected by poor acoustics: those with special educational needs or language processing difficulties; the visually impaired; dyslexia sufferers; and youngsters with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The recently completed Leigh Technology Academy in Dartford, Kent, says it has still not achieved minimum acoustical standards, despite having had them written into the original specifications.

Frank Green, Leigh's chief executive, said the school had two hearing- impairment units that did not meet minimum standards. He said: "We're quite sure we will get it resolved. The discussions have been ongoing for a few months."

David Canning, an education audiologist and teacher of the deaf, believes bad acoustics can impact on teachers' health.

"There is data from the US which suggests that poor acoustics are linked with poor health in teachers," he said.

"One or two surveys show teachers are disproportionately represented in speech and throat clinics."

He added: "Even actors who do voice exercises couldn't stand there every day for seven hours a day and use their voice like teachers do."

Partnerships for Schools said it was "surprised" to hear that the acoustics guidance, Building Bulletin 93 (BB93), is not being complied with as it is a statutory requirement.

A spokeswoman said: "BSF is about providing learning environments in which every young person has the chance to maximise their opportunities, and acoustics plays an important role in this. BB93 is a statutory requirement to ensure that in a `standard' classroom students are able to hear the teacher talking without interference from sound from adjoining rooms or echoes from the spaces."

Sound advice

Classrooms with good acoustics have been shown to improve pupil behaviour

Data from the US shows good acoustics can improve teachers' health and reduce absenteeism

Open-plan learning areas often provide the worst acoustics

Overuse of glass, which reflects sound, can exacerbate the problem

Carpeted floors and other soft coverings can help to reduce sound reflection by absorbing it.

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