Schools have been urged to ensure classrooms have good ventilation when students return in September to minimise Covid transmission between pupils and teachers, potentially with mechanical ventilation.
Six education unions have written to the government in England asking for funds for carbon dioxide monitors to check adequate airflow and microfilters to remove particles from the air.
The government has relaxed rules on social distancing and face coverings, meaning schools can operate more like normal in the new term.
The government advice for schools is to “ensure it is well ventilated and that a comfortable teaching environment is maintained”. Opening windows and doors to encourage air circulation is one solution for schools, and employing mechanical ventilation is another, government advice suggests.
Government action on ventilation in schools and colleges amounts to little more than recommending that windows are kept open – Geoff Barton, ASCL
The largest education unions – the National Education Union (NEU), NASUWT, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), GMB, Unison and Unite – have backed the urgent call. The unions are concerned that the cold British winter will preclude teachers from opening windows.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said it has commissioned research into how best to improve ventilation in schools – this project, based in 30 schools in Bradford, will not publish results until the end of the year.
ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: “Government action on ventilation in schools and colleges amounts to little more than recommending that windows are kept open, which is not sustainable in providing a comfortable learning environment in the depths of a British winter.
“If the government is serious about bringing to an end the educational disruption of the past 18 months then it must provide funding for high-quality ventilation systems as a matter of urgency.”
Ventilation specialists S&P UK have released the findings of a study conducted by its European R&D centre that suggests mechanical ventilation is twice as effective as window ventilation at reducing the risk of infection.
In an experiment with 24 students and a teacher, all wearing face coverings, the introduction of mechanical ventilation lowered the risk of infection from 21% with natural ventilation to 9%.