Schools call for 'high-quality ventilation equipment' fund

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

School leaders want to see “high-quality ventilation equipment” made available to schools where needed after welcoming the government’s £25m roll-out of CO2 monitors as a ppositive first step.

Around 300,000 Co2 monitors will be made available “over the autumn term” to help schools identify the indoor spaces where ventilation is poor.

Improving air quality and ventilation in classroom spaces is just as important as social distancing and hand-washing in preventing Covid transmission, doctors have repeatedly told schools.

The CO2 monitors are portable so schools will be able to move them around to test all indoor spaces. A Department for Education statement said that the programme “will provide schools and other settings with sufficient monitors to take representative readings from across the indoor spaces in their estate, assessing all spaces in a relatively short space of time”.

It added: “All schools and colleges are expected to receive at least partial allocations during the autumn term, enabling all settings to monitor areas where they believe airflow may be weakest. As the monitors are rolled out the department will provide guidance on their use.”

The DfE has said that special schools and alternative provision should receive their full allocation from September given their higher-than-average number of vulnerable pupils.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) has repeatedly called for investment in ventilation systems as part of Covid measures in schools.

General secretary Geoff Barton said: “We are pleased that there is finally a plan to do something practical about this issue by providing carbon dioxide monitors. In truth, this equipment should have been in place ready for the start of the autumn term, and arguably a lot earlier in the crisis, but it is a case of better late than never.”

However, while the DfE’s Covid guidance for schools emphasises the importance of keeping spaces well-ventilated, the only clear advice is recommending that windows should be opened, ignoring the elephant in the room that is the cold British weather.

Mr Barton continued: “Our understanding is that carbon dioxide monitors will indicate when spaces need ventilating thereby reducing the need to keep windows open all the time. This is an important and reassuring step in the right direction. Now we reiterate our call for the government to ensure that high-quality ventilation equipment is made available to schools and colleges where it is needed as soon as possible.”

The National Association of Head Teachers has echoed the call. General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “We need to remember that identifying problems with ventilation, while absolutely necessary, is not the same as solving them. Where inadequate ventilation is identified, this needs to be addressed without delay, and the necessary resources provided. There is no escaping the fact that this is likely to require further investment from government.”

The calls come as the government has launched a trial of air purifiers in 30 schools in Bradford, designed to assess the technology in education settings and whether they could reduce the risk of transmission.

In February, SecEd reported on research showing why ventilation is so important. It takes about four minutes for the number of small droplets in the air to be halved in a room with no ventilation, whereas with mechanical ventilation turned on in a room, the number of respiratory particles is halved in 1.4 minutes (SecEd, 2021).

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Providing all schools with CO2 monitors will help them make sure they have the right balance of measures in place, minimising any potential disruption to education and allowing them to focus on world class lessons and catch up for the children who need it. By keeping up simple measures such as ventilation and testing, young people can now enjoy more freedom at school and college.”

Other measures in place as schools return next week include twice-weekly testing of students and staff in secondary schools and colleges, with two on-site tests provided for secondary and college students as they return.

The DfE has said that schools and colleges “can stagger the return of pupils over the first week of term as needed to support the delivery of testing. Pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when this will be reviewed”.


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