Education union “increasingly concerned” about government “bad” ventilation advice, watchdog says

Education union tells watchdog it is “increasingly concerned” about “bad advice” from government on ventilation in classrooms – seen as an important part of preventing the spread of Covid.

The NASUWT said it was concerned that the current guidelines could lead to “unsafe work practices in schools” and urged the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to intervene in a letter seen by The independent.

The union feared teachers were not getting the right advice on what constitutes safe ventilation levels on CO2 monitors – used to check air quality – and when to act.

A teacher said The independent she had trouble getting her CO2 reading down to recommended levels, even with all the windows in her classroom open.

The government has started rolling out CO2 monitors in schools to show where greater ventilation – the process of bringing in fresh air and removing stale air – is needed to help prevent the spread of Covid .

But the HSE, the regulator for workplace safety, has learned that advice on how to use these monitors is in “urgent need” of correction.

In a letter to the regulator, Dr Patrick Roach of NASUWT said his education union was “increasingly concerned that the issue of ensuring adequate ventilation in school buildings was becoming blurred by bad advice from the Department of Education (DfE) “on carbon dioxide monitors. .

He added: “We are writing to request the intervention of the HSE to support our efforts to ensure that schools can continue to remain open safely and to ensure that effective measures are taken to minimize the risk of transmission of Covid. -19 in schools. “

HSE advice indicates that an average CO2 reading of more than 3:00 p.m. suggests that ventilation is poor and that action is needed to improve it. But in spaces of continuous conversation or singing, or high levels of physical activity, he recommends keeping readings below 800 hours.

Dr Roach said this “would apply to virtually any classroom in the school.” The DfE guidelines state that readings above 800 ppm are an “early indicator” that ventilation needs to be improved.

In his letter to the workplace safety regulator, the NASUWT secretary general said the government was not making suggestions on how to improve reading in its guidelines, which also says the room can continue to be used. – what Mr. Roach claims is against labor regulations.

“The NASUWT is deeply concerned that the DfE guidelines may lead to unsafe working practices in schools and could lead to a violation of legal regulations by schools,” he said.

Mary *, a secondary school teacher in East Anglia, said The independent her class saw “really high” CO2 meter readings on certain days, even with her class’s three working windows open. One day it was as high as 2300 ppm.

“The school can’t do anything because there is nothing we can do to ventilate more,” she said.

Geoff Barton of the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) said The independent many school buildings were “relatively old” and “not easy to ventilate”.

Alison *, a secondary school teacher in London, said she was told to close all of her windows – which she had kept open during the pandemic – after parents complained about the temperature in the winter.

She bought a CO2 monitor and managed to get a reading of around 800 ppm – but had to keep several windows open to achieve that.

“I always put the well-being of students first. But I also have to put my own safety first, ”she said.

Alison hopes she can continue with a few windows open and the heaters on. “The temperature does not endanger anyone’s health. But ventilation could, ”she said.

Her school also recommended that she buy plants to reduce CO2 levels, she said. “I think if the World Health Organization thought that potted plants would help prevent Covid, then garden centers would do just fine,” Alison added.

James Bowen of the NAHT principals’ union said ventilation was “crucial” in tackling the spread of Covid in schools.

“Setting up CO2 monitors in schools was an important first step, albeit late. However, the monitors themselves will not solve the problem of poor ventilation, ”he said.

“When these monitors identify problems that cannot be solved by simple minor changes to the environment, the government must step in and provide more substantial solutions. “

The union’s policy director said an announcement last week for air purification units for some special schools should be extended to all schools.

Mr. Barton of ASCL said The independent an online “marketplace” was announced for other parameters that wanted them.

“Air purification units should be funded for all schools and colleges that need them and it is incredibly frustrating that it has taken 20 months since the start of the pandemic for the government to come up with a response on it. the ventilation equipment and that it is so drab, ”he said.

A spokesperson for the DfE said its guidelines on the use of CO2 monitors had been reviewed by the HSE and the UK Health Security Agency.

“Our deployment of 300,000 carbon dioxide monitors provides schools with another tool to help minimize transmission of the virus, alongside other protective measures such as regular testing, vaccinations and increased hygiene,” they said. declared.

“Schools generally find monitors to be a useful tool in managing ventilation. “

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