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Teachers' Union Calls For Government To Follow US and Fund Ventilation Units For Classrooms

3 min read

Classrooms should be fitted with ventilation units in time for the return to school in September, a leading education union has said today.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union, told PoliticsHome the government should look to the USA, where earlier this year President Joe Biden passed guidance on “proper ventilation” for schools in an executive order.

And at a city level, more than 50,000 New York public schools will get two air purifiers per classroom by September.  

In an interview with PolHome, Dr Bousted said: “I am concerned that throughout last year we have repeatedly asked the government to ensure that there is proper ventilation in schools.

“We know a lot more about Covid now than we did [at the start]. When the pandemic started, it was believed that it was largely transmitted through touch…we now know it is largely an airborne disease. We know that children do get Covid and spread it, and we know that some of them will get "long Covid" and will suffer from that disease, and we know that the Delta variant is much more transmissive, and more virulent, than the previous versions.

“So, I am concerned that all my requests for ventilation units in classrooms have been denied.”

From September the majority of Covid mitigation measures in English secondary schools will be removed with the end of bubbles, social distancing and mask wearing. The management of Covid will be largely done through lateral flow tests with pupils asked to take a test in first week of the new term, and then to take two a week until the end of the month.

Any staff or pupils with a positive lateral flow test will be asked to self-isolate until they get the result of a PCR test. If it is negative, it overrides the lateral flow and the teacher, staff member or pupil can continue going to school.

When it comes to ventilation the Department for Education guidance says schools should identify poorly ventilated spaces as part of a risk assessment and take steps to improve fresh air flow, and that civil servants are working with Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace and Sage on a pilot to measure CO2 levels in classrooms.

In the USA, it was announced that President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan would allow schools to apply for funds to improve ventilation in their buildings.

Bousted said: “I'm concerned that the government's talked about suppression [of the virus] in schools, but not given schools and leaders the resources to really bring those into effect, like they have done in some states in America where every classroom has a ventilation unit.

“I'm concerned that taking away bubbles and mask wearing at a time where the autumn and winter's coming on will lead to spirals of infection in schools now. They may not affect the adults in schools anything like as badly, because they will have been double vaccinated, but it will affect some because even the double vaccinated can be ill with COVID."

Government guidance on ventilation released on July 30 said fresh air coming into a room can reduce the spread of coronavirus and advised that mechanical ventilation systems should be using a fresh air supply and not recirculating indoor air.

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."

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