A Midlands secondary school faced issues with inadequate air quality due to a scarcity of monitors to measure its levels. Demand outstripped supply due to poor ventilation, leading to inconsistent readings in certain classrooms that were alarmingly above the recommended clean air limit of 800 parts per million (ppm). The subsequent protest by the concerned staff, however, fell on deaf ears, resulting in the monitors being removed.
As the government identified the correlation between poor air quality and a higher risk of Covid transmission in schools, England was given 350,000 CO2 monitors. However, only 8,000 air purifiers were made available for classrooms. A survey by the National Association of Head Teachers discovered that the government had underestimated how many schools would require air purification systems. It found that 34% of the 9 in our 10 schools that received the monitors had consistently poor levels of ventilation in classrooms, despite actions to correct them. Even after remedial measures, over 53% continued to experience poor air quality.
According to the NAHT survey, only 2% of the schools used air filter devices recommended by the government, whereas 8% bought them themselves. A significant number of respondents said they could not afford them since the price of two filter units suitable for a classroom was expensive, ranging from £425 to £1,170 each, in addition to the cost of filters.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, believes that the demand for air filters would far outstrip the available stock. He insists that the government should pay attention to the issue and replenish the supply to ensure that all schools receive enough air filters to meet their needs. He added that sufficient ventilation should not be a matter of "first come, first served."
The Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Munira Wilson, accused the DfE of failing in its responsibility towards the schools. According to her, the DFE’s criteria for the provision of free air filters were too high. The safe limit of 800 ppm was nearly twice the 1500 ppm level set by the DfE as the threshold.
In Bradford, a consortium of researchers is conducting a study to identify the best methods to achieve clean air in the classroom and investigate the link between Covid transmission rates and CO2 levels. They classified 800 ppm or below as healthy, while above 1500 ppm was problematic and needed immediate attention. The range between 800 and 1500 ppm is often inconclusive due to varying factors affecting the readings.
The DfE stated that 99% of education settings had CO2 monitors. They only require air cleaning units where ventilation is poor and cannot be easily improved. Based on the feedback received from schools, the government is providing up to 8,000 air cleaning units next week.
Educational institutions such as schools, nurseries, and colleges are given until 17th January to submit their applications for the acquisition of 7,000 state-of-the-art air purification units. As a supplemental effort, 1,000 units are already extended to special schools and other alternative provision settings.
Assuring an optimized classroom environment for students, a spokesperson affirms the effectiveness of their measures. Mass testing, the provision of supply staff, and the dedicated efforts of schools and teachers are expected to bring forth positive results.