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Pressure is mounting on the government to provide a cash fund for schools that need to buy CO2 monitors and ventilation units for classrooms to avoid another spike in coronavirus cases in the autumn term.
NASUWT wants the devices to be installed as soon as possible, as education leaders converge around the idea ventilation must be improved before pupils return for lessons.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, Patrick Roach, the general secretary of the 300,000 strong union, said teachers are still working in rooms which have the windows sealed shut and should be given support to monitor their levels of fresh air versus CO2 to make a safe environment.
Roach said: “It’s an opportunity for the Secretary of State to make come commitments here. Given the period we’re entering into, and given what we’re hearing from the chief medical officer that the autumn and winter could be a very difficult period again for the country, it’s vitally important we take pre-emptive action now. Not waiting for the worst to happen.”
He said given schools know they are dealing with an airborne virus adjustments need to be made now, during the summer holidays.
“A commitment to a fund to provide that ventilation [and] monitoring and support with air filtration – that would be an extremely positive move. It would be reassuring to those working within our schools and be reassuring for many parents,” said Roach.
Yesterday Dr Mary Bousted, head of the largest teachers union the NEU, said their calls for improved ventilation in schools had so far fallen on deaf ears within the Department for Education. She called for the government to look to US President Joe Biden in the US who is enabling schools to apply to funds to improve airflow in their buildings as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
CO2 monitors would indicate when there is poor air circulating and not enough fresh air coming into a classroom. They are relatively inexpensive, while commercial companies are offering a whole range of more expensive ventilation systems for classrooms that clean the air by using vents installed into the wall.
Some teachers have spent the pandemic teaching in classes with windows that do not open, and for those that can open them, the temperatures over winter mean it will not always be possible to teach with that as the only source of fresh air.
Roach said: “It’s taken something as extreme as Covid to reveal frankly how deep some of the challenges are in our education system and raise the quality of school buildings. They are afterall, work places for our teachers.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “In line with existing guidance and the protective measures recommended for schools, indoor spaces should be kept well ventilated. Areas where ventilation is poor should be proactively identified so that steps can be taken to improve fresh air flow if needed.”
The department said they expect schools to ensure that settings are well ventilated and a balance is struck between fresh air and heating in the colder months.
From September schools in England are no longer required to put children into bubbles, ask them to wear masks or comply with social distancing, though there will still be lateral flow testing on arrival for the new term and until the end of September.
With mitigations removed, Roach said he was concerned that the virus could spread when children return to school in September and it would have been more sensible for the DfE to follow the Scottish government’s strategy.
In Scotland there is no longer blanket isolation but face coverings for secondary schoolchildren and staff will still be mandatory for six weeks and staff will have to operate social distancing of one metre apart while on the school site.
Roach said: “Maintaining the mitigations in place in Scottish schools prior to this summer break until at least the end of September [is] a wise move to take because the summer is such an unknown.
“A cautious approach is one which ministers in other UK jurisdictions would do well to consider.”
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