Education unions urge Government to tackle school air quality

Six trade unions have urged the government to find more money to help schools tackle growing indoor air quality (IAQ) problems.

In a joint statement, the ASCL, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU and UNISON highlighted 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 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.

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.”

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), which represents ventilation providers and air quality experts, said there were a wide range of low-cost mechanical solutions available that could help schools take control of their air quality.

BESA’s Head of Technical, Graeme Fox, said:

“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.”

BESA also described as “unhelpful” a story that appeared in The Sunday Times, which suggested CO2 levels of 1,500ppm in classrooms was “reasonable”. The article promoted the concept of using natural ventilation alone to provide adequate IAQ, but the Association pointed out that such a high level of COwould also indicate wider problems.

“1,500 ppm is almost double the government’s recommended maximum and high CO2 is a clear indicator that the ventilation rate in the room is not adequate to support good learning conditions and protect health,” BESA said.

“Natural ventilation will play a part, but it cannot provide a complete solution and does not allow full control over the amount and direction of air in the space. It also cannot provide air filtration, which is necessary for buildings close to main roads and in other areas of high pollution.”

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