Victorian school acoustics

Fingringhoe C of E Primary School in Colchester is typical of many schools built in the Victorian era. During its 150 year history the school has undergone a number of changes to its physical fabric. More recently, environmental conditions within classrooms have also come under scrutiny. The groundbreaking Essex Study into school acoustics pointed to these issues when it was published in 2012.

In order to improve its traditional main classroom, Fingringhoe School has been carrying out refurbishment work. Central to the upgrade was the involvement of renowned educationalist Professor Stephen Heppell, who is the Felipe Segovia Chair in Learning Innovation at the Universidad Camilo Jose Cela, Madrid.

Professor Stephen Heppell (Photo credit: SCHOMS)

The school invited Professor Heppell to undertake a year-long study into improving the learning environment for pupils. Previous research had suggested how air quality and lighting can affect learning. Another key factor in promoting effective education is acoustics.

The main classroom’s flat ceiling which was added in the 1970s was removed to reveal a pitched roofline. This had the positive effect of improving the look and feel of the space. Unfortunately the large increase in volume also led to problems with reverberation time.

Roofline before acoustic treatment

In order to combat unacceptable reverberation, acoustic products specialists Ecophon were brought in and Adrian James Acoustics was appointed to measure the room acoustics of the classroom before and after treatment.

Ecophon identified a lack of available wall space on which to place treatment. New light fittings would greatly improve the room’s overall lighting, but a side effect would be to reduce the amount of acoustic absorption which could be suspended from the ceiling. In order to overcome these issues, low frequency absorption pads were placed on two of the walls with “Class A” absorbing panels on top.

We took careful measurements of the room prior to installation of acoustic panels as well as afterwards. It was important to establish the veracity of our readings, so that the true benefits of the treatments could be measured.

Taking sound measurements before acoustic treatment

Using WinMLS software, we assessed reverberation time (T20 and T30), Clarity, Definition, Strength/Gain and Early Decay Time. Before treatment, the mid-frequency reverberation time level (TMF) was measured at 1.2 seconds.

However, once the acoustic products had been installed our readings revealed a huge improvement down to a level of 0.6 seconds. These results put the new acoustic performance well above the BB93 standard and close to the rigorous standard specified for SEN pupils.

The studies of Prof. Heppell will carry on measuring the advantages of good acoustics when teaching children. The pupils’ ability to learn stems from a good teaching environment and Prof. Heppell’s study at Fingringhoe is designed to analyse these benefits.

Class A absorption panels (Photo credit: Shane Cryer)

We are delighted to have been part of this project and in the words of Adrian James, “I sincerely hope their work [Essex County Council], supported by Ecophon’s research, encourages other education authorities to start providing the acoustic conditions that pupils and teachers deserve.”

For more about this project, please see this article which includes further comments by Adrian James.