07 September, 2021
Following concerns across the Education sector, on Friday 20 August, the Government announced that schools will receive up to 300,000 CO2 monitors to assess air flow and in particular, stale air around school buildings, backed by a £25 million Government investment. This appears to have been prompted in response to concerns and is a direct attempt by the Government to address critical questions about the ventilation measures being taken in schools.
With the autumn term fast approaching, questions have understandably been raised on the future of ventilation in schools, particularly in the coming winter months. The general reliance on natural ventilation, i.e. the 'open window' approach has led some to query the level of protection offered in schools and the likelihood of school buildings remaining well ventilated in future months. There is a real risk that if natural ventilation in schools were to reduce, particularly due the potential reduction of natural ventilation if schools reach uncomfortable temperatures in colder months, the spread of COVID-19 will increase significantly, particularly with measures surrounding school bubbles, extracurricular activities and general mixing relaxing. As many are aware, good ventilation in any building is essential, as it reduces the risk of aerosol transmission, where someone may potentially breathe in particles in the air after being in an enclosed space with someone who is infected with the virus. This risk is particularly heightened in places like school buildings, where there is a high concentration of people, particularly young people, against a backdrop of increasingly transmissible strains of the COVID-19 becoming a danger.
The Government's hope is that the introduction of CO2 monitors will allow schools to identify areas of poor ventilation better and assess which areas need fresh air flow, which may vary throughout the day. In taking this step, it is suggested that schools may be able to alter their reliance on open window ventilation in colder months. Again, this is intended to address fears across the sector about the quality of working and learning conditions if schools remain solely reliant on fresh air during winter months. In their announcement, the Government suggest that the 'majority of 300,000 monitors will become available over the autumn term, with special schools and alternative provision prioritised to receive their full allocation from September given their higher-than-average numbers of vulnerable pupils.'
Despite these positive steps forward, some will undoubtedly still question what future measures may expected for schools, along with an indication of when more extensive guidance will become available, particularly surrounding effective use of CO2 monitors in a school environment. Currently, Government guidance for the reopening of schools remains unchanged, confirming that schools should identify areas of poor ventilation, open doors and windows to improve natural ventilation and rely on manufacturer recommendations where mechanical ventilation is used. Some will now anticipate further indication of the Government's expectations when it comes to the use of CO2 monitors, particularly where they will need to be used and monitored by members of staff throughout the day.
Despite these concerns, the Government's recent announcement brings some indication of what may be expected for school buildings in future, with confirmation of an air purifier trial taking place in 30 schools in Bradford. This step will most likely be welcomed as an effective bridge between reliance on natural ventilation and steps towards more effective, mechanical ventilation measures in future. It is also reminiscent of the measures taken in Germany, who announced earlier in the year that are investing £452 million in improving ventilation systems in public buildings, including public offices, universities, and schools. The focus for schools, who may not have had access to more mechanical ventilation such as air conditioning, to receive at least mobile air purifiers.
The Health and Safety Executive currently provides guidance surrounding the effective use of CO2 monitors, emphasising the need to understand how the monitors operate, how to obtain the most accurate readings and where monitors are best placed for the size of the building they may be required in, including confirmation of building dimensions and occupancy levels where they may be less effective. Whilst this guidance does leave questions regarding use of CO2 monitors in the education sector, it does provide some reassurance about the recent steps being taken by the Government to tackle ventilation in schools and addresses the benefits that CO2 monitors will undoubtedly bring.
The roadmap for tackling ventilation in schools does seem to have taken a significant step forward in recent weeks, with the Government indicating their understanding of the concerns of those across the sector and a willingness change approach from the lessons learned last term. Notably, this update only goes part of the way to addressing the issue of ventilation in schools, with an update regarding the trial air purifier scheme and indication of further guidance eagerly anticipated. However, with progress being made, the future looks positive for improving ventilation in schools, with it certainly being a topic for those across the sector to keep updated with.
Written by Andrea James and Laura Rae, Trainee Solicitors in the Housing and Regeneration (Property) team at Forbes Solicitors.
For more information contact Catherine Kennedy in our Education department via email or phone on 01772 220162. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.