Schools: Air Conditioning

Department for Education written question – answered at on 20 September 2023.

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Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment she has made of the potential impact of using air purifying equipment in schools on levels of covid-19 infections in schools.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

Good ventilation can reduce the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

Evidence from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies demonstrates that CO2 monitoring is an effective method of identifying poor ventilation in spaces with multiple occupants. The Department knows that sufficient ventilation can be challenging, particularly in the winter months when staff sometimes feel they need to choose between fresh air to reduce the risk of airborne illnesses, keeping classrooms warm and the impact of increased heating costs. As such, the Department has provided CO2 monitors for approximately 100% of eligible teaching spaces in England. This will help staff balance good ventilation with energy usage whilst maintaining a comfortable temperature in rooms.

These CO2 monitors enable the ventilation in teaching spaces to be monitored. Where these monitors consistently identified poor ventilation that could not be easily remedied, schools were able to apply for Department funded air cleaning units (ACU). The Department has now provided over 9,000 ACUs to eligible settings.

In general, ACUs can help reduce airborne contaminants in poorly ventilated spaces. ACUs remove particulate matter, including virus particles, from the air to improve indoor air quality. The air purifiers provided by the Department work using high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter technology. There is strong evidence from laboratory studies of the efficacy of HEPA filtration technology at removing airborne viruses from the air. However, although they help improve air quality, ACUs do not reduce CO2 levels or improve ventilation, so it is important that they are not used as a substitute for ventilation or a reason to reduce it.

Department officials sit on the working group for a project looking at the implications and potential benefits of fitting schools with air cleaning technology, which is the Bradford classroom air cleaning technology trial. This was funded by the Department of Health and Social Care and managed through the UK Health Security Agency. The study is run from the Centre for Applied Education Research which is based at the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, UK. The trial has concluded and the academic leads intend to publish the results in a peer reviewed journal in due course.

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