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Parliament: Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, Clause 237

parliament2.jpgThis post is about amendment 78 of clause 237 of the
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill 2008-09. It concerns the acoustic quality in schools. In other words, school buildings are failing to comply and as a result an amendment was tabled.

Nick Gibb (Shadow Minister, Children, Schools and Families; Bognor Regis & Littlehampton, Conservative)

.... [snip] .... There is genuine concern about some of the architecture being used. The National Deaf Children’s Society has raised particular concerns with me about the acoustics in some of the new buildings. It said in its briefing to the Committee that open-plan teaching spaces were being promoted without proper consideration of how to ensure high-quality acoustics in such spaces, which is a real concern for deaf or hearing-impaired children, and we need to address it. .... [snip] ...

Later in the debate, the goverment chips in:

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families; Portsmouth North, Labour)

I shall first speak to amendment 78. There is no need for further powers to gather information about acoustic quality in schools. The Secretary of State has general powers to collect information in support of his functions and the Department has frequently conducted surveys on the condition, sufficiency and suitability of school buildings. It would be possible to gather information about acoustic quality under those existing powers.

The acoustic quality of new school buildings is covered by other legislation including building regulations made under the powers of the Building Act 1984. In addition, regulation 18 of the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 provides that each room or other space in a school building shall have the acoustic conditions and insulation against disturbance by noise appropriate to its normal use. The particular requirements of pupils with special educational needs, including those with special hearing requirements, are catered for by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, which provides that every local authority must have a strategy for improving the accessibility of schools for pupils with a disability.

As part of the continuous review of the relevant regulations, the DCSF and the Department for Communities and Local Government are currently reviewing building bulletin 93, which gives guidance on compliance with acoustic standards for schools. The two Departments are liaising with the National Deaf Children’s Society and other stakeholders to ensure that the needs of deaf children, those with special hearing requirements and those with speech and language communication difficulties are fully considered in the review. The inclusion of the amendment would not, in my view, produce any additional improvement to the work already being undertaken in that area. ... [snip] ...

Are we barking up the wrong tree here? If this is already covered in law, there's no point in attempting to pass another law if one already exists. What's the deal here? Primary legislation (Building Act 1984) and secondary legislation (Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999) is law. It is not a guidance. Building Bulletin 93 would be guidance, in the same way as the Highway Code is just a Code of Practice (the Road Traffic Act is the law).

Perhaps NDCS wishes the detail contained the the Building Bulletin 93 to be revised and put in primary legislation (Act of Parliament). However, the point of Acts they are not meant to cover detail, so they can be revised if needed.

Two points, this seems to warrant a departmental review of the Bulletin. However, if law needs to be enforced, then the appropriate action is to bring legal action against the schools or building contractors, and to make sure the DCSF are a bit tougher on enforcement. We seem to shy away from legal enforcement in the UK, and go via some media campaign instead. Law enforcement is there as a tool, use it. If I'm missing something here, please drop a comment.

They Work for You
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill 2008-09

NDCS Sounds good?
NDCS response to Government review on acoustics [PDF]
New school buildings failing to meet needs of deaf children
Campaigning for deaf children

See also:
Parliament: Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, Clause 210

Image source: vgm8383 under CC.

Comments (1)

The law requires acoustics to be fit for purpose and guidance sets out how you can achieve this - but there is no requirement anywhere to check for compliance with the guidance. There is no enforcement going on - and there is no real mechanisms to ensure this.

The NDCS campaign is calling for:

a) strengthening of the guidance so that new schools, once built, are required to be checked for compliance with the guidance. There is no hard requirement for this at present. We are trying to do this in various ways including an amendment to existing law; and

b) for the Government to commit to audit existing schools.

The campaign has been working closely with Government Ministers and officials to push this. We are encouraging and members and supporters to contact their MP to support this at: http://e-activist.com/ea-campaign/clientcampaign.do?ea.client.id=19&ea.campaign.id=2687 and welcome more support. We're also continuing to lobby Government officials and Ministers directly.

More information is available at www.ndcs.org.uk/soundsgood

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