The air quality in almost three in four (72%) UK classrooms is “below standard”, according to a survey.
The poll asked more than 100 teachers across the UK about their school’s working conditions. Nearly three in five teachers (59%) deemed a classroom with poor air quality to be ‘not fit for purpose’ – for either teachers or pupils.
Three-quarters (77%) of teachers noticed that substandard air quality caused concentration problems in students, while 53% said performance or grades suffered.
The Air Quality in UK Classrooms Report – conducted by experts in air movement and ventilation solutions Airflow – asked teachers at 133 schools across the UK for their insights into working and learning conditions at UK schools.
The report found that conditions affected student health, with three in five (61%) teachers believing that classroom air quality is aggravating asthma and other lung conditions in pupils. Ill effects on health were 55% more likely in cities, where both industrial and road pollution are more prevalent.
The report states that this year’s summer, which saw record high temperatures in the UK exacerbating pollution and its effects, makes the issue of air quality all the more important. Reports from scientists at the EU Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service have warned of spikes in unhealthy levels of pollution around Europe, which are likely to become more common each year. Increased pollution can irritate and inflame the lungs.
Recommendations put forward by teachers include: 72% calling for the replacement of old heating appliances (which can contribute to indoor air pollution); 71% wanting installation of air filtration or purification systems; 38% cited banning cars on streets with during school run times; and 32% saying playgrounds and classroom windows should be relocated away from roads.
Grassroots pressure needed
Alan Siggs, managing director of Airflow Developments Ltd, said: “We commissioned this survey to raise awareness of the problems poor air quality creates and how it impacts the classroom. Improving air quality is our area of expertise and we know the solutions available to overcome these problems.
“However, what we didn’t know and what this survey has highlighted is how bad the situation is and how it affects teachers and students. It’s clear that funding solutions need to be found quickly and there must be support from the upper reaches of government for that to happen. Investment in modern ventilation systems is a must for the health of the future generation: we’ve seen at first hand the stark difference good air quality can have.
“To gain this investment, grassroots pressure is required to focus the government and local councils on the issue. Schools, teachers and even parents can raise the issue at PTA meetings or with local councillors to start turning the screw.
“The recent resurgence in Covid cases makes action on air quality even more pressing. Nobody wants a situation where children and teachers are returning to classrooms that facilitate the transmission of the virus. If measures are put into place, the health of both students and teachers can only benefit.”
Nicola D'Urso, school speech and language therapist, said: “Some schools I work in have indoor areas which are poorly ventilated without any windows. I've seen examples of children fainting and disengaging due to dehydration in excessively hot and stuffy classrooms. It's not uncommon for children to become drowsy and even the brightest students can stop interacting in lessons… The main obstacle is that senior leadership teams in schools are at the mercy of their local council's policy on clean air and limiting air pollution. The roadblock for schools is that it's a bit out of their hands given that it's up to the council and the government to get a grasp of air pollution and put adequate policies in place.”