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Too noisy to think

Schools are so noisy that children's academic performance is suffering. The noise levels in the classrooms and playgrounds of primary schools exceed both World Health Organisation and Department for Education and Skills safety guidelines, according to a study of external and internal noise in three London boroughs. Even empty classrooms were found to have above recommended levels.

Two experiments were set up to measure the effect of noise on children's ability to complete a range of verbal and non-verbal academic tasks.

In one, the children were exposed to classroom babble, while in the other there was environmental noise as well. The two noise conditions had different effects on performance, with reading and spelling tasks significantly impaired by the babble. The worst results were in classrooms where children doing non-verbal speed tasks were exposed to both babble and environmental noise conditions.

Researchers found that the noise affected the children's performance in national tests. The impact was stronger at key stage 2 and in English tests than at KS1. It was most pronounced when there was a combination of classroom babble and additional noise. Children with special educational needs were worst affected.

While teachers were aware of internal and external noise and the impact on children's concentration, they had few strategies for dealing with high noise levels in the classroom.

The Effects of Noise on the Attainments and Cognitive Performance of Primary School Children by Bridget Shield, South Bank University and Julie Dockrell, Institute of Education. E-mail:, or:

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