In a joint statement, six trade unions have urged the government to fund schools in tackling the ongoing indoor air quality (IAQ) crisis in school buildings
The ASCL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU and UNISON all expressed alarm at the extent of the air quality crisis in school buildings exposed by the wider use of CO2 monitors. They said schools could not afford to pay for mitigation measures and the central government should intervene.
The government has spent £25m on supplying CO2 monitors and has pledged to supply 7,000 air purifiers for classrooms, but the unions agreed this was totally inadequate to address the scale of the growing air quality crisis.
‘A basic human right’
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said: “Seven thousand more air purifiers is something, but it is completely inadequate for what should be a basic human right, the provision of clean air in every classroom.
“The fact that the Government has provided the extra purifiers shows that it recognises the problem but with over 300,000 classrooms in England it has failed to provide an effective solution.”
There is growing concern that the indoor air quality crisis (IAQ) will cause a further disruption to children’s education, unless the problem is addressed, as the government is accused of offering rhetoric rather than solutions.
The NEU also reported that 58% of its teacher members said they did not have regular access to a CO2 monitor and, of those who do, 13% said readings in their classrooms were regularly over 1,500 parts per million (ppm) and 32% said they were over 1,200ppm.
The government’s own guidance is that all settings should have access to CO2 monitors and the ventilation should be able to keep CO2 below 800ppm in all occupied classrooms.
The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) said there was a wide range of low-cost mechanical solutions available that could help schools take control of their air quality.
‘Raising awareness of CO2 levels only goes so far’
BESA’s head of technical Graeme Fox commented: “The government has a much better grasp of the extent of the problem thanks to the deployment of air quality monitors, but simply raising awareness of CO2 levels only goes so far.
“Opening windows can help, but only to a limited extent as it does not provide complete ventilation of the indoor space. It can also create other problems including bringing outdoor pollution into the classroom and increasing background noise if the school is located close to a main road.”
The government-funded air cleaning units are being provided to schools and colleges with specialist needs and others are being directed towards an online ‘marketplace’ where they can purchase others. The unions have described this action as “simply not good enough”.
‘A breakthrough year for building ventilation’
Nathan Wood, whose firm Farmwood Ventilation works with a number of schools to address IAQ problems, stated: “2021 was a breakthrough year for building ventilation because the pandemic increased the focus on how viruses are transmitted through the air.
“Our industry has been aware of this threat to children’s health for many years, but now everyone is talking about it, and we finally have a great opportunity to address it properly.
“Many of the solutions are relatively straightforward and inexpensive, but every building is different so must be addressed individually. There are also a lot of ‘snake oil’ salesmen out there who are jumping on the bandwagon and offering ‘miracle’ air purification solutions that do not work.
“So, I would urge head teachers to approach local ventilation firms and ask them to survey their building before they do anything else.”