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Acoustic design for inclusion in schools

Designing for SEN by Saint-Gobain Ecophon

Ecophon organised a two hour session on Designing for Special Educational Needs in schools at Salford University, MediaCity on Thursday 23rd January 2020. Jack Harvie-Clark was delighted to join expert speakers Matthieu Cassinadri (Saint-Gobain Ecophon), Richard Mazuch (Design Research & Innovation, IBI Group), and Mark Pratt (DfE, Strategic Design Adviser – SEN).

Matt set the scene by reminding the audience about the heightened importance of acoustic conditions for pupils with special hearing and communication needs. Richard described how a deep sensory reevaluation of space and design had led to one of his most fulfilling projects. Mark shared the methods that the Department of Education uses to evaluate and measure school designs, and the pilot schemes it has for innovative and sustainable projects.

Jack reminded the audience about the purpose of acoustic design, and how we can understand the varying acoustic needs of the occupants of school buildings – for speech intelligibility, to control the build up of noise, and acoustic privacy. Jack illustrated how young people are more vulnerable listeners than older people, and how they are more significantly impacted by noise. He compared the guidelines in England with those in other European countries, noting those that link reverberation time to room volume.

Jack described some of our research that illustrates how Strength, G can better aid an understanding the build up of noise in rooms than reverberation time. This is demonstrated in practice by the measurements at Sweyne Park School, reported in “The Essex Study”. Typical noise levels in classrooms are nearly 10 dB above the daily exposure limit in German open plan offices, where there is a limit of 56 dBA for the health and well-being of the occupants. Controlling the build up of reverberant sound can be as important as speech intelligibility for the welfare of the occupants.

Dr Emma Greenland of Anderson Acoustics has done a lot of work with Prof Bridget Shield to re-evaluate what an acoustic proposal for inclusion may look like. The Anderson Acoustics’ white paper “Improving access to listening in mainstream schools” summarises the research and makes the case for a reverberation time limit of 0.5 seconds across all classrooms. Apex wholeheartedly supports this proposal as the optimal target to improve speech intelligibility and reduce the build up of reverberant noise, while minimising the vocal strain for the teacher.

You can download Jack’s slides here.
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