Sound, light and environment

Orleans House Gallery The Coach House Education Centre, Schools session


Research tells us that high levels of noise affect cognitive function and impact on performance of tasks[3]. A range of research[4]has also shown that it is particularly important for primary age children to be able to hear clearly. Vocabularies are not fully developed until children are 15: when adults hear only a proportion of spoken words they can use their knowledge to fill in the missing words, but children are unable to do this as they simply do not know enough words.

See advice on acoustics.


Research shows a correlation between natural daylight and student attainment.

Students in classrooms with good natural daylight in the US progressed at between 15% to 26% faster over a year than their peers in classrooms with no daylight[5]. Research by CapeUK[6] found that children felt more comfortable within, and preferred, well-lit spaces. Lighting can be used to change the nature of spaces without having to change any other element – e.g. lunch room to performance area to evening lecture space.

See advice on lighting.


Thermal comfort, as well as good ventilation to ensure good air quality, are important for learning.

Evidence[7] suggests that spaces that feel ‘stuffy’ do actually have a detrimental impact on learning. Research shows a space with a high level of CO2, which translate as the stuffy feeling, is detrimental to children’s attainment and increase the number of sick days teachers take[8].

The guidance is that C02 should not rise above 1500 parts per million (ppm) when a room is in use. The temperature of spaces should be between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius. This can all be measured with inexpensive equipment – for example Learnometer is a project that provides a device that can go on a wall and takes measurements of light, sound, temperature, air pollution and pressure.

See advice on heating and ventilation.


[3]Pamela Woolner The Design Of Learning Spaces. New York: Continuum International Pub. Group; 2010. Page 18

[4] Carol Flexer, in an article for Hearing Journal (August 2002) stated,
“People can fill in the blanks of missed information only if they have that information already stored in their brain’s ‘data bank’ from where they can retrieve it. Because they do not have those data banks, children need a sharper auditory signal than adults do. Thus, while a classroom might sound fine to an adult, it may be woefully inadequate for typical children who are neurologically undeveloped have not had decades of language and life experience. All this means that children require a quieter environment and a louder signal than adults do in order to learn.”

Newman, Rochelle S. (2004). “Perceptual restoration in children versus adults”. Applied Psycholinguistics 25 (4): 481–93

Marianne Fallon, Sandra E. Trehub, and Bruce A. Schneider. Children’s use of semantic cues in degraded listening environments2002 

[5] Lisa Heschong, (2) Roger L. Wright, Ph D. and (2) Stacia Okura, Daylighting Impacts on Human Performance in SchoolThe Centre for Learning and Teaching School of Education, Communication and Language Science University of Newcastle, The Impact of School EnvironmentsDesign Council. Page 20

[6]CapeUK and Renaissance North West, Creative Spaces: Children as co-researchers in the design of museum and gallery learning, Renaissance North West, 2000

[7] GREENE, R., … et al., 2012. Measurements of CO2 levels in a classroom and its effect on the performance of the students. CIBSE ASHRAE Technical Symposium, Imperial College, London, 18-19 April, 10 pp

[8]P.S.Barrett, Y. Zhang, J. Moffat and K.Kobbacy (2012). “An holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning.” Building and Environment.