More than nine in 10 schools are still waiting for airflow monitors, which can reduce the spread of Covid-19, despite the education secretary promising that a third of the units would be delivered by the end of this month.
Just 8% of the 300,000 CO2 monitors the government pledged to send to primary and secondary schools in England this term have been delivered, a Twitter poll by a primary school headteacher revealed last week. The poll found that about 92% of schools were still waiting for the devices, which will warn if air quality in a room has become unhealthy and airflow is poor.
When he was criticised earlier this month about the slow rollout of the scheme, the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, promised that a third of the monitors would be delivered by 1 November and the remainder before the start of December.
James Bowen of the National Association of Head Teachers said: “Despite the announcement back in August, many schools are still waiting to receive their CO2 monitors. These devices are really important, as they will allow schools to work out where ventilation needs addressing.
“Given that the government has told schools that good ventilation is one of the most important measures they can put in place, these monitors are crucial. Without them, schools are relying on gut feeling and guesswork.” He called on the government to accelerate the delivery of the monitors and give schools the funds to improve ventilation in classrooms if a problem is discovered: “Where poor ventilation is identified, schools need to have the means to do something about it, be that building adaptations or potentially the use of air filters. We would expect the government to support schools with this where necessary.” Without such action, he warned, “disruption to education will only get worse as we head into winter”.
With infection rates rising fastest among school pupils, many headteachers are asking teachers to keep windows and doors open at all times. However, as the weather turns colder, teachers face a dilemma: whether to force children to sit in cold, windy classrooms or close windows and risk the spread of Covid.
At East Whitby Academy, a primary school in North Yorkshire, headteacher Simon Smith, who conducted last week’s Twitter poll, is feeling “massively frustrated” that his CO2 monitor has not arrived as expected before the end of half-term. “Our school building is 70 years old and ventilation isn’t great,” he said.
On the other hand, he added, the classrooms are “freezing” in winter if teachers keep all the doors and windows open, as they did last year: “We are perched on a hill just outside Whitby, so we get quite a sea breeze.”
He fears that pupils may have to wear coats, gloves and hats in classrooms again, like they did last winter before lockdown. A CO2 monitor would help him to make decisions about where children’s learning could take place safely without needing to go to extreme lengths to ensure good ventilation. He said he was not surprised by the results of his poll: “It feels like all the government does is make grand promises.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the rollout was on track: “We cannot pre-empt the publication of official statistics, but it would be inaccurate to report that the number of monitors being rolled out is equivalent to the number of settings that have confirmed receiving one. The number of locations delivered to is not representative of the total number of monitors delivered.”