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It was once referred to as the forgotten pollutant and while some may think this issue is a fact of life, noise is an annoyance that can be bad for your health, whether it’s in the home, workplace or outside environment. In the world of education, noise can not only have a direct impact on teaching and learning, but for teachers and lecturers, it can result in voice strain, hearing issues and stress-related illnesses. Good acoustics in education environments should be a fundamental design element, so what are the challenges when it comes to creating the optimum teaching and learning environment?

There is no escaping the fact that schools and universities are busy and bustling environments.  However, students taught in quiet rooms which offer good acoustics learn and behave better than those in noisy rooms with poor acoustics. It can be hard to avoid in certain teaching situations, such as in group work or in music or drama lessons for instance. Noise from stairs and circulation routes can cause disturbances to teaching spaces. There’s also the impact of external sources of noise such as traffic, aircraft or plant rooms.

The move towards more open plan environments can also have a direct impact on acoustics, because  background noise and sound intrusion are difficult to minimise. With ever-tightening budgets and the need for private study areas, educational environments need to be flexible and adaptable, but this should not be at the expense of good acoustics.

Design guidance for acoustics in new schools is provided by Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) which is incorporated within the Building Regulations. It provides complex calculation methodology for the material dividing space to ensure each classroom or educational space meets the required acoustic performance. This could mean ensuring the wall between a music practice room and a library is fit for purpose for example.

Demountable glass partitions have become an intrinsic design element when creating flexible environments for education.They can effectively compartmentalise large areas within a school, university or library and allow spaces to be quickly transformed and reconfigured. With communication such an important factor when it comes to learning, glass partitions must offer good acoustic performance in order to aid interaction between teachers and students, as well as improving study activities. Glass partitions can achieve excellent acoustics, particularly double glazed partitions. Credible test data should be obtained from the manufacturer to demonstrate that the specified system meets the required acoustic performance.

The demand for good acoustics in schools and universities has never been higher. Teaching and learning are acoustically demanding activities, but well-designed teaching spaces – which fully consider acoustic separation between public spaces and quiet teaching or study areas – will enhance learning and contribute to the well-being of both students and teaching staff alike. 

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