Calls for better ventilation in schools as a quarter of teachers work in classrooms without opening windows

Katy Morton
Friday, January 7, 2022

New research suggests the Government’s open window policy to increase ventilation in schools is ‘unworkable’ as 27 per cent of teaching staff work in classrooms without windows that open.

The research suggests that hundred of thousands of teachers could be working in classrooms without opening windows - thought to be key by the Government in increasing ventilation to reduce the spread of Covid PHOTO Adobe Stock
The research suggests that hundred of thousands of teachers could be working in classrooms without opening windows - thought to be key by the Government in increasing ventilation to reduce the spread of Covid PHOTO Adobe Stock

The findings, taken from a survey of 500 education staff including headteachers, teachers and teaching assistants, are published in a white paper by hygiene specialists the Phs group.

When scaling up the figure to all full-time teachers in the UK, the Phs group believes 162,000 teachers could be working in classrooms with no ventilation.

The survey also reveals that three in four (74 per cent) education staff are disappointed in central and local government for ‘failing’ to find a better solution for air purification in schools.

Government policy dictates that schools should open windows in classrooms to ventilate the air and potentially remove Covid-19 virus particles. Schools have also been provided with CO2 monitors to identify areas of poor ventilation.

Nine in 10 education staff who responded to the survey said there were between one and 10 rooms in their school where windows couldn’t be opened, with half stating it is ‘impossible’ to implement the open window guidelines in five to 10 classrooms at their school.

'How practical is this, and how much responsibility can we put on teachers?'

The University of Cambridge’s Professor Paul Linden, an expert on the role of ventilation in the airborne transmission of Covid-19, said, ‘If we’re going to keep our schools open we have to keep our children and teachers safe. 

‘We know that poor ventilation increases the risk of infection. Covid is spread through airborne particles that can be filtered from the air and removed by introducing more fresh air.

'Opening windows is just the first step, and we have to ask ourselves how practical this is, and how much responsibility can we put on teachers? How much do we open windows and for how long? Every classroom is different and ventilation is complicated; we can’t expect teachers to be ventilation expertsThe best answer has to be a combination of solutions that suits each classroom.’

The research also shows:

  • Almost 70 per cent of survey respondents are concerned about being put at risk of Covid infection.
  • A fifth of teachers claim they do not understand or are not familiar with the Government’s open window policy.
  • A fifth of teachers said the Government’s current guidelines on ventilation are impractical. A further quarter said it ‘caused more problems.’
  • A quarter of teachers believe having windows open causes more viruses due to students and teachers being cold, leading to further absences. Half said they have more staff off than ever before.

David, a primary school teacher in Leeds, said,We’re lucky enough that we have windows to open. But it’s not that simple. There are days when it’s minus-one outside, and we have all the windows and the fire doors open to keep the classroom ventilated. Having the fresh air come in makes us feel more at ease but on the flip side it’s freezing and the kids are in coats, hats and scarves in the classroom. Being this cold can’t be conducive to good learning, it’s another obstacle to teaching.

‘We hear in the news that the Government has invested in ventilation at schools, but neither I nor any colleagues across the country can see any tangible improvements. I’d like political leaders to come and see what teaching in a classroom is like at the moment, and how difficult it is for both teachers and learners.’

Chris Brown, head of public sector at phs, which provides waste disposal services to schools and businesses, as well as selling air purifiers, added, ‘A lack of indoor ventilation, as well as a range of other factors, is causing teachers increasing anxiety, at the start of a difficult year for the profession. Teachers deserve better protection.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Schools across the country reopened this week and staff are working tirelessly to ensure settings can stay open for face-to-face learning, and despite the challenges in this first week of term, millions of pupils have returned to be with their friends and teachers.

'Air cleaning units are not needed in the vast majority of classrooms – only where there is poor ventilation that cannot be easily improved. Based on feedback from schools that there are only a small number of cases where good ventilation is not possible, we are supplying up to 8,000 air cleaning units from next week.

'Together with mass testing, bringing in supply staff and the hard work of schools and teachers, we are confident that our measures will maximise classroom time for students.'

 

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