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Trade unions raise the alarm on air quality in schools

Six education unions have called on 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 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 central government should intervene.

The government has spent £25 million 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), pointed out that there were more than 300,000 classrooms in England, so the number of purifiers offered by the government was only a token gesture.

The unions are concerned that there will be further disruption to children’s education unless the IAQ problem is addressed and accused the government of offering rhetoric rather than solutions.

The NEU also reported on social media that 58 per cent of its teacher members said they did not have regular access to a CO2 monitor and, of those who do, 13 per cent said readings in their classrooms were regularly over 1,500 parts per million (ppm) and 32 per cent said they were over 1,200ppm.

The union said the government should carry out its own survey because “these levels indicate poor ventilation rates and make viral transmission and education disruption more likely”. 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), 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.

“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,” said the Association’s Head of Technical Graeme Fox.

“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,” he added.

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.  This was described as “simply not good enough” by the unions, who called for a concerted programme of public funding to avoid another year of exam cancellations and disrupted schooling.

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