New guidance for schools to protect children from air pollution

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New health advice has been launched to help schools tackle air pollution.

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The guidance from the National Education Union and the British Lung Foundation warns school staff and pupils about the dangers of air pollution.

According to the two organisations, every year an estimated 40,000 early deaths in the UK can be linked to breathing polluted air, with more than 2,000 schools and nurseries across the country located close to roads with illegal levels of pollution.

It follows research that found more than 1,000 nurseries across England are in close proximity to roads where the level of air pollution exceeds the legal limit.

Nursery World reported in August that one early years setting in an area of high pollution in North London, Hopes and Dreams Nursery School, had installed air purification units in its building to clean up the air children breathe in.

The new guidance offers practical solutions to protect young children who are at risk.

It calls on head teachers and school leaders to create an action plan involving pupils, parents, governors, teachers, support and maintenance staff and policymakers. This includes installing air pollution monitors to show when toxic air is worst, and considering which measures could be the most effective to tackle the problem.

The organisations also suggest creating individual school travel plans to discourage the use of cars, identify safe walking and cycling routes that avoid heavy traffic, encourage car sharing, and remind parents that babies and children in buggies are at greater risk due to their proximity to exhaust pipes.

The guidance warns staff that their settings could be contributing to local air pollution through boilers and generators, air conditioning systems, kitchens, vehicles making deliveries and garden equipment.

It suggests installing energy-efficient appliances and lightbulbs, draught-proof windows, motion-sensitive lights and self-regulating radiator valves, as well as using fuel-efficient vehicles and sourcing local produce to help reduce a setting’s contribution to air pollution.

The guidance also encourages staff to link activities and conversations on air pollution and its impact to the National Curriculum in science, PHSE, citizenship, English or geography. 

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said, ‘Our own research found that only a third of local authorities are monitoring pollution levels outside schools. This isn’t good enough. Toxic air is poisoning our children. This guidance will address the lack of information and data available to teachers and parents.’

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘Air pollution is a growing area of concern for members of the National Education Union. Schools cannot solve this problem alone but we are delighted to publish guidance which will help schools take practical steps to protect children.’

  • The British Lung Foundation also runs a network of parent campaigners on air pollution in partnership with ClientEarth. Schools can email campaigns@blf.org.uk to join the network. 

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