Good ventilation in schools helps improve attendance

After a three-year hiatus, it became clear that minimising absenteeism for all students was critical.Attendance remains low in some regions, and there are significant regional differences.
In fact, improving attendance is an area of ​​focus for the government at the moment – not given that recent figures from the Ministry of Education show that even a few days of absence from school can negatively impact academics in Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 strangeness.
So, whether it’s Covid-19 or other airborne illnesses like colds or the flu, schools should do whatever they can to reduce sick absences.
An important way to achieve this is through ventilation.It’s an issue that’s been getting a lot of airtime during the pandemic, but at the moment it’s slightly off the agenda as we adjust to “learning to live” with Covid-19.
However, it would be negligent to ignore ventilation and its importance in schools – especially if we are really “learning to live with Covid” or looking to improve attendance – as it, like other respiratory infections, is released through the air Particle transmission We talk, cough, sing, sneeze and breathe – a common activity in school classrooms where children and adults work in close proximity.
Good ventilation can minimize the risk of infection by ensuring that any Covid-19 particles released into the air are diluted and blown away, reducing the chance that people will inhale enough particles to become infected.
Ventilation doesn’t just reduce the risk of illness.Research has shown that, in addition to reducing a range of respiratory symptoms, it can improve students’ concentration, cognitive abilities and productivity.
Maintaining healthy ventilation is a simple idea in theory, and key physics suggests that if you double the amount of fresh air in a room, your risk of airborne exposure is halved.
In practice, it is difficult to measure the actual impact of ventilation and air cleaning on infection rates, as there is limited data on ventilation and the number of infections in different locations.
Nonetheless, available evidence does suggest that ventilation and air cleaning can significantly reduce school absenteeism.
For example, a study in the United States looked at reported data on infection rates and actions taken to reduce transmission from 169 elementary and kindergarten schools.
Those schools that made ventilation improvements (such as opening doors and windows more often or using fans) saw a 35 percent reduction in infection rates, while those that also added air-cleaning equipment saw a 48 percent reduction.
Another study of multiple “super-spreading” outbreaks showed that the size of the outbreak was related to ventilation rates, with poor ventilation leading to an increase in the number of cases.
Data for other diseases also exist.Respiratory illnesses were 33 percent higher in rooms with closed windows in military camps, and 50 percent lower in nursing rooms in buildings with higher ventilation rates.
Perhaps, most notably, for schools, higher ventilation rates in California classrooms were associated with fewer sick absences.
The ventilation design of each classroom can be different, so the first step is to assess the ventilation of the room.
This can be done with the support of a site manager or building manager, but it is also important to communicate to those using them how the room is ventilated so they understand what works, why and how to improve it.
For example, walking with staff or simple informational posters can help staff identify ventilation and where air may enter and leave the room.
Some rooms may be mechanically ventilated, providing air to the room through a system of ducts and fans.Alternatively, the room may have an extractor fan or low energy heat recovery ventilation.
If a room has one of these systems, it is important that they are regularly maintained and evaluated, and it is vital that the occupants of these rooms know how the system works.
During periods of high disease incidence (eg, high or increasing absenteeism), mechanical ventilation systems should operate with more fresh air than usual.
It is also important that school staff know how to spot any potential problems with mechanical ventilation equipment, such as through spot checks with CO2 monitors, and be able to report these problems for prompt resolution.
Many classrooms are naturally ventilated, relying primarily on opening windows, doors or other vents to provide good airflow.
It is important to first check that windows and vents are well maintained and can be used easily and safely.
Of course, some windows don’t open well, or don’t open on cold or wet days, which hinders ventilation.
However, there are a few tips to help maximize window ventilation under different weather conditions or window qualities:
A carbon dioxide (CO2) monitor can be a useful guide to show whether there is adequate ventilation in a classroom.
CO2 monitors work by measuring the ratio (in parts per million, or ppm) of CO2 to other substances such as oxygen and nitrogen in the air.In outdoor air, CO2 is typically 400-450ppm.
When the room is occupied, if the room monitor typically reads around 800 ppm or less, then ventilation is probably good.Often readings above 1,500 ppm indicate poor ventilation, especially in classrooms.
First, site managers or building managers can use them as part of a ventilation assessment.This may help identify locations that require maintenance or additional measures.
Second, the person, staff or student using the room can directly use the CO2 monitor to manage ventilation and know if they need to open windows or turn on air purification units.
For classrooms with design issues or with difficult ventilation barriers, HEPA filter or ultraviolet disinfection (UV-C) based air purifiers may be a good, powerful short-term solution for continuous cleaning of the classroom environment. Air.
There is growing evidence that air purifiers work well and have been shown to remove virus particles from the air.
Air purifiers do not provide ventilation, so they should always be used in conjunction with some method of providing fresh air, such as opening windows regularly.
There are many factors to consider, including noise, cost, and maintenance, but portable air purifiers are often a straightforward intervention that can be implemented quickly and easily.
We know ventilation and air purification efforts can reduce infections, but in order for it to be effective, we need to maintain a long-term focus on school air quality.
There is no benefit in reducing ventilation if there appears to be an infection rate, or if you wait until there is an outbreak to open windows.Good ventilation in schools should be used as a background measure to prevent transmission from occurring in the first place and bring broader health benefits.
Additionally, the use of air purification with filters can provide significant benefits in reducing exposure to outdoor pollutants from traffic, wood fumes, and industry.Cleaning the air with a filter can also reduce exposure to pollen that can cause allergies and hay fever in the summer.
All of this can help reduce student and staff absences, improve academic performance, and create more energy-efficient school grounds.
So now is the time to invest in better solutions for our schools – this could be new mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, more efficient natural ventilation solutions, or the long-term implementation of robust air purification technologies.
This may feel like an important step in planning for new ventilation, and when budgets are already stretched thin, it may feel like an expensive step, but the payoff can be huge and long-term.
The cost of implementing improved ventilation will save direct costs associated with enforced lockdowns, increased pressure on the NHS, school closures, staff absenteeism and long-term indirect societal costs of lost education and opportunities.
There is no magic bullet for eliminating airborne infections, but everything points to ventilation and air cleaning as one of the best tools to minimize impact and protect children and staff.
The authors would like to thank Professor Mark Mon-Williams, Dr Chris Brown and colleagues and schools involved in several studies, including the HSE-led PROTECT Covid-19 National Communication and Environment Core Study, the DHSC-funded Class-ACT study, and the DfE and EPSRC funded SAMHE study.
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