Heathrow noise ‘hinders pupils’ reading progress’
Children living under the Heathrow flight path are suffering two-month lags in their reading development as a result of aircraft noise. Hounslow council says pupils in the borough have to put up with “continual disruption”, and warned the problem will worsen if the airport expands to three or more runways. Around 40 schools are directly under the Heathrow flight paths with planes landing every 90 seconds or so much of the day. The council cites an international study by London University into aircraft noise which found it led to a “significant impairment” in reading development, as well as affecting long-term memory and motivation. As well as a 2-month delay in reading, the children’s education is suffering from the continual disruption from low-flying jets. If schools don’t have triple glazing the interruptions to lessons can be relentless. One school near the airport has had shelters installed in the playground so children can escape the noise. A 2010 ECRD study suggested that chronic aircraft noise has a deleterious effect on memory, sustained attention, reading comprehension and reading ability.
Heathrow noise ‘hinders pupils’ reading progress’
28 March 2013
Children living under the Heathrow flight path are suffering two-month lags in their reading development as a result of aircraft noise.
Hounslow council claims pupils in the borough have to put up with “continual disruption”, and warned the problem will worsen if the airport expands to three or more runways.
Around 40 schools are directly under the flight path with planes landing and taking all through the daytime. The council cites an international study into aircraft noise which found it led to a “significant impairment” in reading development, as well as affecting long-term memory and motivation.
The research, led by the University of London, found that pupils under the Heathrow flight path suffered an average two-month delay in reading. Hounslow’s environment spokesman Colin Ellar said: “Our children’s education is suffering from the continual disruption from low-flying jets and it’s up to the airport to be a good neighbour and ensure they do all they can to reduce the nuisance. The problem will only get worse if it expands with a third runway.”
Katharine Harper-Quinn, head teacher of Hounslow Heath Infants and Nursery School, said: “It’s extremely disruptive. Outside play for the children is dominated by ear-deafening interruptions every two minutes as landing aircraft pass a few hundred feet over their heads.
“Inside, if you don’t have triple glazing the interruptions to lessons can be relentless. It’s really difficult to keep the children focused. It can be really, really hard for the staff.”
The school, with 500 pupils aged three to seven, is two miles from the airport and has planes going overhead every 90 seconds unless runway alternation is in operation. It has shelters in the playground so children can escape the noise.
Heathrow has installed triple glazing in many local schools and homes.
Call for more night flights
The London Chamber of Commerce is calling for extra night flights into Heathrow to ease the capital’s aviation capacity crisis.
It says that allowing planes to land in the small hours would boost the economy. The chamber wants the measure included when the Davies Commission into aviation capacity makes its interim report in the autumn. In a meeting with the airports commission, the LCCI also backed more “mixed mode” flights — taking off and landing at both runways — during peak periods such as the summer holidays. Heathrow has up to 16 flights arriving between 11.30pm and 6am.
The CBI claims that one extra daily flight to/from emerging markets could boost UK trade by £1 billion annually.
But John Stewart of anti-expansion group HACAN said: “Night flights are hugely unpopular with residents. There will be fury at the merest suggestion that the number should be increased.”
Fear that ‘Heathrow noise reduces pupil learning by third’ – as Hounslow opens its Heathrow consultation
Date added: April 15, 2013
The head teacher of an infant and nursery school directly under a Heathrow flight path, close to the airport in Hounslow, has been speaking of the impact of the planes on the learning of children at her school. Kathryn Harper-Quinn, who runs Hounslow Heath Infant & Nursery School said a recent study had highlighted the dramatic impact planes thundering 600-feet overhead have on children’s learning. Asked to recall factual details from an outdoor lesson, she said, a class of 7-year-olds could remember about a third less than those hearing the same lesson in a specially built noise-insulated hut. When the study was repeated with a fictional story, there was no noticeable difference in performance – a result Ms Harper-Quinn put down to pupils being able to fill in the gaps more easily. Speaking at the official launch of Hounslow Council’s consultation on Heathrow, she claimed a 3rd runway would blight thousands more children’s education. The consultation questionnaire contain 11 questions, and the deadline for responses is May 16th.
Aircraft noise ‘affects learning’
Many children were also exposed to aircraft noise at home
Exposure to high levels of aircraft noise may affect children’s reading skills, researchers claim.
A team from Barts and the London NHS Trust looked at data on more than 2,800 children living near Heathrow and other airports in Spain and the Netherlands.
The Lancet study found each five decibel increase in noise level was linked to children being up to two months behind in their reading age.
A US expert said the study supported previous research findings.
The children, all aged nine or 10, attended schools near to London’s Heathrow Airport, Schiphol in the Netherlands and Barajas in Spain.
Aircraft noise might only have a small effect on the development of reading, but the effect of long-term exposure remains unknown
Professor Stephen Stansfeld, Barts and the London NHS Trust
But the researchers said their findings applied to the area around any airport.
Exposure to aircraft noise was associated with impaired reading comprehension, even after factors such as socio-economic differences between schools were taken into account.
Reading age was delayed by up to two months per five decibel increase in noise levels in the UK children studied, who attended schools in the boroughs of Hounslow, Hillingdon and Slough, and up to one month in the Dutch children.
A similar comparison could not be made for the Spanish children studied as there is no national data on reading age available.
Long term effects ‘unknown’
Overall, the researchers found a difference of around 20 decibels between children exposed to the lowest and highest levels of aircraft noise.
This translates to a delay of up to eight months in a child’s expected reading age.
The researchers say that while this is significant, it is much lower than the two year reading age delay seen in children with learning difficulties.
They suggest that children exposed to noise learn to tune it out – but this can mean they also tune out other external noise, such as teacher’s instructions.
Increased levels of exposure to both aircraft and traffic noise was associated with additional stress in children and a reduced quality of life.
However, exposure to traffic noise alone did not have an effect on reading age and, unexpectedly, was found to improve recall in memory tests.
Professor Stephen Stansfeld, who led the research, said: “These exposure-effect associations, in combination with results from earlier studies, suggest a causal effect of exposure to aircraft noise on children’s reading comprehension.
“In practical terms, aircraft noise might only have a small effect on the development of reading, but the effect of long-term exposure remains unknown.”
He said the results were relevant to the design and placement of schools in relation to airports and to the formulation of policy on noise and child health as well as the wider consideration of the effect of environmental factors on children’s development.
Schools which already existed near to airports should be properly insulated to give children as much protection as possible from the effects of aircraft noise, said the researchers.
Writing in the Lancet, Dr Peter Rabinowitz of Yale University School of Medicine, said this latest research backed up previous analyses.
He highlighted one study which looked at children living near to the old Munich airport in Germany, before and after it was closed down.
“Children attending schools near the airport improved their reading scores and cognitive memory performance as the airport shut down, while children going to school near the new airport experienced a decline in testing scores.”
The London Borough of Hounslow said that, in light of the research, it had launched an investigation into the impact of aircraft noise on local schools.
ERCD REPORT 0908 Aircraft Noise and Children’s Learning
By K Jones
http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/ERCD200908.pdf (24 pages)
This report is a literature review of the research into the effects of aircraft noise on children’s learning and cognition. The primary cognitive processes that are examined in relation to aircraft noise are episodic memory, semantic memory, sustained attention and reading comprehension.
The review includes early work in this area from the 1970s, to the most recent studies. Key
studies are described, along with suggestions for future research.
The Summary says:
5.1 This review has aimed to describe the main contributions in the field of aircraft noise and cognitive ability in children. The results are not completely in agreement, but there is evidence to suggest that chronic aircraft noise has a deleterious effect on memory, sustained attention, reading comprehension and reading ability. Early studies highlighted that aircraft noise was also implicated in children from noisy areas having a higher degree of helplessness i.e. were more likely to give up on difficult tasks than those children in quieter areas. This motivational decrement was reported in various studies, and it was suggested that this should be an area for future research over a longitudinal study protocol.
5.2 Reports often indicated that children exposed to chronic aircraft noise showed a higher degree of annoyance than those children from quieter areas. Evidence has been presented to suggest that children do not habituate to aircraft noise over time, and that an increase in noise can be correlated with a delay in reading comprehension compared to those children not exposed to high levels of aircraft noise.
5.3 It was suggested that language acquisition deficits may be related to the decrement in reading comprehension in children from noisy areas, but there is no agreement as to how these mechanisms are directly affected by noise.
5.4 It is largely recommended that future research needs to focus on longitudinal studies, to assess the long-term effects of chronic aircraft noise exposure on learning and cognitive ability in children. More detailed exploration of the mechanisms underlying the development of memory, attention and reading processes is needed, and how exposure to noise affects these. It would be useful to include measures of noise levels at home as well as at school. This would allow for the relative contribution of noise exposure at home to be assessed as well as at school, and allow for comparison between the two.
Full report at http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/ERCD200908.pdf
The West London Schools Study: the effects of chronic aircraft noise exposure on child health
M. M. HAINES, S. A. STANSFELD, S. BRENTNALL, J. HEAD , B. BERRY , M. JIGGINS and S. HYGGE
From the Department of Psychiatry, St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London; Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London and the Royal Free Medical School, London and Centre for Mechanical and Acoustical Metrology, National Physics Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex; and Laboratory of Applied Psychology, Centre for Built Environment, University of Gavle, Sweden
Background. Previous field studies have indicated that children’s cognitive performance is impaired by chronic aircraft noise exposure. However, these studies have not been of sufficient size to account adequately for the role of confounding factors. The objective of this study was to test whether cognitive impairments and stress responses (catecholamines, cortisol and perceived stress) are attributable to aircraft noise exposure after adjustment for school and individual level confounding factors and to examine whether children exposed to high levels of social disadvantage are at greater risk of noise effects.
Methods. The cognitive performance and health of 451 children aged 8–11 years, attending 10 schools in high aircraft noise areas (16 h outdoor Leq > 63 dBA) was compared with children attending 10 matched control schools exposed to lower levels of aircraft noise (16 h outdoor Leq < 57 dBA).
Noise exposure was associated with impaired reading on difficult items and raised annoyance, after adjustment for age, main language spoken and household deprivation. There was no variation in the size of the noise effects in vulnerable subgroups of children. High levels of noise exposure were not associated with impairments in mean reading score, memory and attention or stress responses. Aircraft noise was weakly associated with hyperactivity and psychological morbidity.
Chronic noise exposure is associated with raised noise annoyance in children. The cognitive results indicate that chronic aircraft noise exposure does not always lead to generalized cognitive effects but, rather, more selective cognitive impairments on difficult cognitive tests in children.
c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Mary M. Haines, Department of Psychiatry, Queen Mary, University of London, Basic Medical Sciences Building, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS.