To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the potential merits of supplying air purifiers to primary schools for use in classrooms; and what steps his Department is taking to protect primary school pupils, their families and school staff from covid-19.
Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, we have emphasised the importance of ventilation and provided guidance to providers on ventilation requirements. We have always said that where a provider is in operation, it is important to ensure that it is well ventilated and that a comfortable teaching environment is maintained.
During the autumn term, we provided CO2 monitors to all state-funded providers, early years, schools and further education colleges, backed by £25 million in government funding. We have now delivered on our public commitment with over 353,000 monitors delivered. The programme provided schools and other settings with sufficient monitors to take representative readings from across their estate. Feedback suggests that schools are finding the monitors helpful to manage ventilation and, in most providers, existing ventilation measures are sufficient.
For the very few cases where maintaining good ventilation is not possible, we are supplying up to a total of 7000 air cleaning units in response to this feedback to settings. This is in addition to the 1000 department funded air cleaning units that we announced on 18 November 2021 for special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision providers. State funded schools, including primary schools, further education colleges and early years providers can apply for a funded air cleaning unit if they meet strict eligibility criteria. Providers were able to apply for funded units via an online form. Applications closed at 9am on 17 January 2022. Applications will be assessed against strict criteria for their provider type. We will prioritise spaces with the poorest ventilation to receive units based on criteria such as CO2 levels and occupation density.
The department has also launched an online marketplace which provides settings with a route to purchasing air cleaning units directly from suppliers at a suitable specification and competitive price. Further information is available here: https://s107t01-webapp-v2-01.azurewebsites.net/list/air-cleaning. In future, we may review this list and as more products which meet our specification become available, these will be added.
The department is also protecting primary school pupils, their families and school staff from COVID-19 through a range of other measures including staff testing, staff face coverings in communal areas, and daily testing for close contacts.
All eligible staff from education and childcare providers, and all students and pupils aged 5 and above identified as close contacts, are strongly advised to participate in daily testing of contacts of COVID-19. Individuals are asked to take 7 daily lateral flow device (LFD) tests if they are identified by NHS Test and Trace as a close contact of a confirmed positive case. It is strongly advised that the daily LFD test is taken before leaving the house for the first time each day. Children under 5 years are exempt from self-isolation if they are identified by NHS Test and Trace as contacts of a positive case, and are not being asked to take part in daily LFD testing.
Overall, scientific studies and expert opinions indicate that face coverings can reduce transmission of COVID-19 by restricting the release of droplets and aerosols containing the virus. Any benefits in managing transmission are always balanced with any educational and wellbeing drawbacks in the recommended use of face coverings. For this reason, in primary schools and early years providers we recommend that face coverings are worn by staff and visitors in communal areas.
The steps we are taking will protect the education of children and young people and keep them in school or college, and ensure parents are reassured that it is as safe as possible.