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Teachers Have Told Pupils To Wear Thermals And Coats To Lessons To Cope With "Freezing Classrooms"

Children walk to class in the snow, Reigate. Credit: Alamy

5 min read

Teachers are telling pupils to wear vests and thermals under their school shirts and keep their coats on in lessons as poorly ventilated classrooms are forced to open windows and doors to protect against Covid-19.

Government guidance that schools should be well ventilated to curb the spread of the virus means that unless classrooms have electric ventilators, staff are instead having to resort to open windows and doors. 

With temperatures barely above freezing today, school staff across the country are now advising pupils to wear more layers to school to cope with the cold. 

Unions are also questioning today whether the Department for Education's 7000 air purifiers it delivered to classrooms for the spring term will meet the needs of schools.

One secondary teacher working in the North West told PoliticsHome today: "In some rooms it really will feel freezing. I'm going to start recommending they wear thermals under a school shirt."

Staff at Bidston Avenue Primary School in Birkenhead wrote that due to the "bitter temperatures", they are advising children come to school with extra layers. 

They Tweeted: "Classrooms will have some windows open for ventilation, so please ensure they have their school jumper on and consider a vest under their shirt/polo top."

Other teachers have told of their experiences on social media, with one teacher Tweeting: "I’ve got my windows open to protect us all but also let my students keep their coats on.  I’ve also talked to them about wearing extra layers under their uniforms."

Labour's shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan said the response from the government on ventilators had been complacent and inadequate. 
“Government incompetence is leaving schools with no option but to open windows as temperatures plummet and heating bills rise, just to get adequate ventilation," he said. 

"Labour urged ministers to use the Christmas break to get ventilation systems into schools and colleges but they have again failed to act until it’s too late. 
“Twenty months on from Sage first highlighting the importance of ventilation in schools, this is literally a problem the government should have fixed while the sun was shining."

Depsite the efforts to keep children warm, there is a debate on the Mumsnet website about whether schools should be enforcing strict uniform rules despite the cold. Some have said their children's schools are sticking with no coats in the classroom rule, and asking that any base layers or thermals are not able to be seen under white shirts. 

One parent wrote: "We got a letter yesterday to say wear base layers, not visible through the uniform, as windows and doors will be open all day. They will not be allowed to wear coats. It's -1 here right now and not going to get above 5 according to the forecast. These are primary kids."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said warned that it could be too cold for children to concentrate in some cases. 

 “It is impossible to say with any certainty whether the provision of 7,000 air filters will be sufficient to meet need, but given that there are upwards of a quarter-of-a-million classrooms in England, it is reasonable to think that demand could easily outstrip supply.

“On the face of it, government advice to 'open a window' seemed a sensible policy, but not all classrooms have windows that open. Those that do, can become too cold in winter for children to concentrate," he said. 

"Most schools have now got CO2 monitors to measure air quality in classrooms. Where a problem is identified, air filters should be provided – not rationed or limited to 7,000 nationally – to ensure that all classrooms that need one, get one. The government owes all children a safe and comfortable environment in which to learn, with minimal disruption to education.”

UNISON, which represents 250,00 school support staff, also have concerns about cold classrooms and the government must come forwards with more air filters as an alternative to open windows and doors. 

"Opening windows might have been an option in the summer but it’s much harder in the depths of winter. Pupils need to be in a comfortable environment if they’re to learn effectively," assistant general secretary Jon Richards told PoliitcsHome. 

“Education unions have been calling for air filters for months to avoid these problems. The government must find the funds to give schools what they need immediately.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi was questioned repeatedly in the Commons yesterday by MPs about ventilation in schools and told that children were having to wear coats in class.

He has said there are 24,000 schools in England, and the government has sent out 350,000 CO2 monitors to check ventilation standards, costing £25 million.

He said ventilation is being adequately managed by schools, and only in some cases is additional help needed. 

"The feedback from the majority has been that they do not need air purifiers. When we did the modelling, we thought that they would need roughly 8,000, which is what we have. The first ones go out next week. That is the right, proportionate and cost-effective way to deal with it," he told the Commons on January 5. 

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “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."

Over 350,000 carbon dioxide monitors were also delivered to schools, according to the DfE, who added that feedback has shown teachers found them to be helpful in managing ventlation.

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