How Indoor Air Quality affects exam results

Andy Williams looks how Indoor Air Quality impacts exam results

Children and adolescents spend a huge portion of their day at school. Andy Williams, Technical Consultant at Jaga, discusses how poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) could be preventing pupils from reaching their full intellectual potential and explains how investing in efficient ventilation systems can improve the learning environment and reduce school running costs.

Schools have a responsibility to provide their pupils and staff with a healthy, safe and productive environment in which to learn and work. But this responsibility rests particularly heavily on the shoulders of secondary schools in January and June; the months where exams dominate the school calendar, and where pupils’ performance must be at their best.

Whilst UK secondary schools pupils are not strictly underperforming in examinations, according to the latest data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), there has been little-change in performance of 15 and 16-year olds in the core subjects of English, Maths and Science in 2015 when compared to the previous year’s figures. England remain 27th on the global table when analysing exam results, despite the UK government’s ambition to make Britain’s schools among the best in the world by 2020.

Poor IAQ and its impact

Whilst the quality of teaching, classroom sizes and students themselves will inevitably impact pupils’ exam results, there are other external factors that can affect the learning environment. In recent years, increased focus has been placed on the school building itself, and in particular how the air quality inside the building can affect pupils.

Poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is often caused by little or no ventilation and a consequent build-up of CO2 in the classroom. The result of poor IAQ on pupils can be wide-ranging, and can impact concentration, productivity and attention span; three factors which are vital when it comes to sitting for exams.

The importance of meeting regulations

To help combat poor IAQ in schools, the UK government produced guidelines entitled Buildings Bulletin 101 (BB101) to provide guidance on what the appropriate levels of CO2 should be in school buildings. In the guidelines, it advised that CO2 – a direct indicator of IAQ – should have a mean occupied concentration of 1,500ppm.

Failing to meet these levels can significantly impact the performance of students in schools. It has been proven that there is a direct correlation between inadequate ventilation in schools and poor pupil performance. According to a study by the University of Exeter, the cognitive performance of an occupant decreases by 5% when CO2 levels rise above 1,500ppm. These symptoms can be exacerbated in the school environment – an often densely populated space.

How can schools provide pupils with the optimum learning environment?

To maximise productivity and ensure that the UK becomes one of the top-ranking countries for exam results, schools must better ventilate their buildings. The type of ventilation that education consultants choose for a building is vital. Manual ventilation methods such as opening a window may marginally improve air quality, but it can be difficult to measure and maintain CO2 levels.

Instead, consultants should encourage specifiers to install Demand Controlled Ventilation (DCV) – a system which is highly intelligent and able to instantly detect the level of CO2 in a room via carefully placed sensors. When a high level of CO2 is detected, fresh, filtered air can be introduced into the room, whilst the stale air can conveniently be extracted.

It is crucial that the ventilation solution chosen is economically viable

According to a recent survey from a union of school leaders, the number of schools in deficit has more than doubled since 2015, so it is also crucial that the ventilation solution chosen is economically viable. What is particularly smart about DCV systems is that they only ventilate a room when needed – making it up to 28% more efficient than natural ventilation methods. This means that when a building is unoccupied – in the school holidays for example – consistent and ongoing ventilation management isn’t required. On the flip side, on days or times during a school day where levels of CO2 are extremely high due to high occupancy of people in an exam hall or PE spaces for example, the system can kick in and ensure that the IAQ remains at the optimum level for the building’s inhabitants.

In addition to controlling CO2 levels, a well-designed ventilation system can also help control warm, summertime temperatures by utilising secure night-time purge ventilation. This lowers the temperature within the space when external temperatures are lower.

Ultimately, when using DCV in conjunction with a highly efficient mechanical ventilation system with balance airflow, the safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff can be maintained at an optimal level to positively impact productivity – supporting our educational endeavours to produce the best results from talented pupils.

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