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Why Open Windows in Winter Aren’t Enough

single open window in a big building

As fears of an Omicron Christmas spike grow, schools are reportedly busy making emergency plans for remote learning in case pupils are ordered not to return to the classroom in the new year.

The news comes alongside a surge in calls nationwide for ventilation improvements to ensure the safety of staff and pupils throughout school facilities.  The calls are intensifying as temperatures drop to the single digits and schools grapple to find solutions other than flinging open windows in the bitter winter months. There are fast rising concerns that this basic approach to air circulation is just unworkable: leaving children too cold and uncomfortable to learn in class.

The fast-rising challenges adding to the woes of headteachers this Christmas raise important questions about how schools can – in a race against the clock – get the right safety measures in place and set the right mood of learning in the classroom.

The pandemic has spurred millions of us to rethink everyday things we took for granted, from the places and spaces we occupy to the very air we breathe. But while the ways we think about space has changed, the work to make smart, healthy and efficient spaces that meet our needs is only getting underway.

Mark Bouldin, Clean Air Expert at Johnson Controls UK&I said:

“Everyone knows that packing children into classrooms significantly increases the risk of Covid transmission, which is why good ventilation and how we can achieve it are being hotly debated.

But this is an opportunity to do much more than prevent children catching Covid, as crucial as that is. The link between air quality and long-term health complications has been known for many years. The reduction in air pollution has been one of the great public health successes of the last century. What’s far less appreciated is the effect that poor air quality has on students’ productivity and concentration. 

Recent research has found that creating and maintaining a standard for air quality can improve productivity by 11%, and can even have a measurable effect on pupils’ strategic thinking and exam scores. In fact, one study found that spending a few hundred pounds on air filtration systems has been shown to raise test scores by the same amount as cutting class sizes by a third

By improving air quality, we can literally breathe new life into classrooms, with huge advantages for pupils and, longer term, for the growth of the UK economy. 

We constantly hear that the coronavirus crisis is an opportunity to “build back better”. On air quality we have a chance to make a measurable difference to millions of people’s health, happiness, and productivity. Let’s seize this opportunity to make workplaces fit for the future by tackling what’s been so easy to ignore for so long: the air on which all life depends.” 

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