New classrooms are being designed as open-plan environments where several class-bases share the same space, (resulting in a large number of children in one larger area). Acoustic conditions must be considered at design stage
ILE Design parameters
New classrooms are being designed as open-plan environments where several class-bases share the same space, (resulting in a large number of children in one larger area). These Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) are emerging to facilitate group work and benefit the children’s social development; promoting the sharing of skills, ideas and experiences. More open and connected learning spaces are more flexible and adaptable and provide greater opportunities for collaboration and a broader range of concurrent activities.
However, many acoustic issues arise with ILE, such as high noise levels coming from other class-bases in the same space. Acoustic conditions often do not facilitate a good Signal to Noise Ratio, especially further away from the teacher. Furthermore, the larger spatial volumes lead to higher reverberation times that negatively affect Speech Intelligibility. Longer reverberation times also exacerbate background noise. An acoustic design that ensures adequate absorption of ambient and activity noise levels is crucial.
When designing a new learning space or extending an existing facility, designers are to consider several factors in order to meet the acoustic performance standards in DQLS version 2.0.
The main aims of ILE classrooms are:
- Designing for flexibility
- Internal noise – considerations for using sound absorbing materials
- External noise – considerations for school layout planning at master plan stage
The designs of new learning spaces are to carefully balance flexibility and adaptability of use with the acoustic performance required for a range of learning activities. The design should aim to provide:
- a range of spaces to allow teachers and students to choose where they learn,
- degrees of acoustic separation, which will help to reduce distraction from other activities.
- Provision of break-out learning areas, with a level of acoustic separation while maintaining flexibility and connectivity should be incorporated in to a flexible learning space.
A flexible design not only provides a more flexible learning space, it provides excellent scope to achieve good acoustic performance. MOE DQLS version 2.0
However, it’s not only the sound created within the space; often it’s the reverberation time that intensifies and exacerbates noise. To manage reverberation time, internal noise and provide good acoustic performance within a flexible learning space, the design should typically include the following eight key features:
- Absorptive ceiling treatment (Min NRC 0.85)
- Carpeted floors (The use of acoustic backings further improve their performance.)
- Absorptive wall treatments (equivalent to at least 20% of the ceiling area).
- Adequate spatial volume
- Adequate space per student (user density) Sufficient floor area for each learner (the design should allow 3-4m2 net floor area per learner).
- Mobile furniture modules
- Moveable screens (screens should be a suitable height and positioned to reduce direct sound paths)
- Sliding and/or hinged partitions
COMPULSORY: An absorptive ceiling treatment (minimum NRC 0.85) must cover the full ceiling area.
Generally, the threshold is 85 dB LAeq for no more than 8 hours.
The Ministry continues to review guidance and best practices in order to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and supporting regulations.
Schools are to provide appropriate hearing protection to all teachers and students who are exposed to loud noise. Specialist music teachers may be exposed to high levels of noise for long periods and schools should ensure they have musician’s earplugs fitted.