Poor acoustics hit results and teacher health

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Poor classroom acoustics could be having a disastrous effect on pupil learning and the health and wellbeing of teachers, according to a new report.

Eight out of 10 teachers are thought to be suffering from vocal strain or other throat problems because of having to speak loudly or shout to make themselves heard, compared with just five per cent of people working in other professions.

And pupil performance may be adversely affected by students not being able to hear instructions or what is being taught. 

It is estimated that at eight metres away from the teacher, pupils understand only
36 per cent of what is said in the classroom. 

Also, a 10 per cent rise in background noise on a regular basis has been found to cause a seven per cent drop in SAT scores at primary school. 

However, the study from acoustics company Saint-Gobain Ecophon, found that the problem could affect modern as well as old, Victorian buildings and only about a fifth of local authorities in the UK could confirm that their schools met government guidelines on acoustics. It questioned whether enough attention was being paid to the importance of good sound in classrooms.

Similar findings from research carried out in the United States show that there are different types of noise nuisance in classrooms. Ambient noise, such as the sound of local traffic or the school’s heating system can provide disruption, as can reverberations including, for example, the noise of chairs scraping on hard floors. 

Meanwhile, the signal to noise ratio – or SNR, the difference between the loudness of the teacher’s voice and all the other noises in the classroom – was found to be the most critical component. Children with normal hearing require the teacher’s voice to be about 15 decibels louder than any other background noises in the classroom, to understand what is being said.

Disruptive noise levels affected not only the quality of learning but pupils’ relationships with the teacher and each other if they are struggling to hear, or to make themselves heard.

The latest findings from the UK, which comprise facts and figures taken from a number of studies, suggest that a student hearing less than 50 per cent of everything their teacher says stands less chance of passing exams.

The report added: “The acoustic of a classroom can have a massive effect on learning rates, yet this subject receives a fraction of the attention that other, more visible obstacles to successful teaching receive.”

Classroom acoustics

Facts for teachers
  • Teachers are 32 times more likely to have voice problems than people working in other professions.
  • 86 per cent of teachers in one study said external noise caused disruption in the classroom.
  • Teachers spend 60 per cent of the day using their voice.
  • 80 per cent of teachers said the noise caused by students in a classroom caused them problems.
  • 49 per cent of teachers have to strain their voices to be heard.
 
Facts for pupils
  • In a room with poor acoustics, children only understand 36 per cent of what is said when eight metres from the teacher.
  • Up to 18 per cent of the school population have some sort of hearing difficulty.
  • Deaf children are 42 per cent less likely to get five A* to C grades at GCSE.
  • 80 per cent of deaf children are taught in mainstream schools.
  • 34 per cent of parents of hearing impaired children believe that school acoustics are not appropriate.


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