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Education unions call on government to improve ventilation in schools

EDUCATION unions have made a joint call on the government for urgent action on improving ventilation in schools to reduce further Covid-19 disruption.

The National Education Union (NEU), Unison, NASUWT, the Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), GMB and Unite said today that proper measures to increase airflow ahead of the academic year will make a difference to health and limit the damage to learning.

In their letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, the unions said that the benefits of ventilation in the control of airborne diseases are already well understood and accepted.

They highlighted the installation of carbon dioxide monitors to ensure air is flowing adequately and micro filters for removing harmful particles as measures that could make a significant difference and should be properly funded.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said: “Government action on ventilation in schools and colleges amounts to little more than recommending that windows are kept open, which is not sustainable in providing a comfortable learning environment in the depths of a British winter.”

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said that schools need more than the glib advice to open a window, and criticised the government for not taking action sooner.  

He said: “They have had well over a year to ascertain the situation in schools and make improvements.

“Given that it has removed the majority of the measures that were in place to reduce Covid transmission in schools, the least [the government] can do is to take seriously the ones that remain, or we will continue to see major disruption to children’s education.”

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said that many teachers are still working in rooms with windows sealed shut, and he demanded pre-emptive action.

And NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “It is shocking that, rather than taking concrete steps now to improve the situation, the Department for Education has only just announced a pilot scheme involving 30 schools in Bradford to trial the use of air purifiers, with results not due until the end of the year.

“Eighteen months into the pandemic, and given the accumulated knowledge about ventilation, kicking the issue into the long grass in this way is simply not good enough.”

A government spokesperson said good ventilation has consistently been government guidance and that “areas where ventilation is poor should be proactively identified so that steps can be taken to improve fresh air flow if needed.”

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