Open classroom windows between lessons so kids don’t get too cold, says DfE

But experts warn methods are not a 'magic bullet'

But experts warn methods are not a 'magic bullet'

11 Jan 2022, 13:53

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Schools are being advised to open classroom windows between lessons or only “by a small amount” in a bid to balance ventilation requirements amid plummeting temperatures this term.

The Department for Education published a blog post this morning assuring schools that ventilation “doesn’t mean pupils need to be cold”.

It states: “Only opening windows for 10 minutes an hour can help reduce the risk from virus in the air – and where possible this can happen when the room is empty in the periods between lessons, for example.”

The DfE also advises using “higher up windows or vents causes fewer draughts, as does opening other windows by a small amount”.

A Twitter thread by Professor Cath Noakes, included in the blog post, explains it is only necessary to open a window by a small amount in the winter as you can get both the “wind and stack flow” required to drive ventilation.

However, it caveats that “there may be cold drafts” using such a method.

Noakes also admits, in tweets excluded from the DfE blog, the advice “won’t work for everyone” and is not a “magic bullet”.

“Some places are too polluted, noisy or unsafe. Regular airing may work, but some will need mechanical ventilation or air cleaners”, she adds.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should be at least 16 degrees Celsius.

Leaders are also reminded that uniform rules should be reviewed and schools should “let pupils dress accordingly if they are aware classrooms are cooler than usual”.

The HSE offers similar advice for workplaces improving natural ventilation by opening windows to “relax dress codes so people can wear extra layers and warmer clothing”.

Balance need for warmth and ventilation, schools told

Over 353,000 carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors have been delivered to schools since last term, which the government say “help settings understand where and when they need to improve ventilation while balancing warmth”.

The DfE has announced it will send out more CO2 monitors to schools as new data shows a steep increase in severe flu cases

Guidance states a consistent CO2 concentration of more than 1,500 parts per million (ppm) “is an indicator of poor ventilation”, with 800ppm the recommended level.

Schools Week revealed last year that some classrooms were recording three times these levels despite following ventilation guidance.

One classroom recorded 1,669ppm, despite temperatures dropping to 5 degrees Celsius due to open windows and doors.

Today’s blog post states schools feedback “suggests they are finding the monitors helpful in the management of ventilation and that in the majority of cases existing measures are sufficient”.

Elsewhere, the DfE reminds schools that “free air cleaning units are available to those that need them most”.

Just 8,000 units have been made available for schools, including 1,000 units ring-fenced for special schools and alternative provision settings.

This equates to just one unit for every three schools in England.

Schools Week revealed that schools were raiding their own budget to buy air-cleaning units for their own classrooms.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) called on the government to commit to “a long-term investment in fixing often dilapidated school and college buildings, including improving how they are ventilated”.

Such investment would “pay dividends both during the pandemic and long afterwards”, she added.

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