No ventilation system in schools for second winter branded ‘shocking’

Nuzhat Uthmani said it is unacceptable that children are still being asked to dress warmly for sitting in a classroom.

No ventilation system in schools for second winter branded ‘shocking’ PA Ready
Classroom: Nuzhat Uthmani said it is unacceptable that children are still being asked to dress warmly.

A teacher and education campaigner has criticised the Scottish Government for not developing a robust ventilation system in schools almost two years on in the pandemic.

Nuzhat Uthmani, of Scottish Teachers for Positive Change and Wellbeing (STPCW), said it is “unfathomable” that, for a second winter, staff are having to keep doors and windows open, and ask pupils to layer up.

She said it is “shocking” that ministers are not investing in air filtration units in schools to help keep them safer from Covid spreading further.

Speaking on BBC’s Sunday Show, Ms Uthmani said: “It is unacceptable at this point in the pandemic for schools to have to tell their young people at the start of term to dress warmly.

“A number of schools have had to say that because windows and doors need to be kept open because we have nothing else.”

She added: “All we have is windows and doors to open, and it’s very cold.

“It seems unfathomable that schools are having to ask children to dress warmly as opposed to the Government putting things in place.”

Ms Uthmani, who is also an activist for Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said members of STPCW have written a letter to Holyrood ministers and opposition MSPs raising their concerns about what little has been done to install better ventilation systems.

She said the group has had little response and “none at all from any government ministers”.

“We’ve had summer 2020, we’ve had summer 2021, we’ve had two winters and two periods of long lockdown where all these things could have been put in place,” she said.

“Yet nothing has happened to improve ventilation in our schools.”

Ms Uthmani added: “We really need to have proper air filtration systems – they can be mobile units, for example.

“We’ve seen lots of countries around the world investing in those so that every class has a has a source of clean filtration.

“Even England has now made a move to start to order those and I would really like to know from the cabinet secretary when these are on order for Scottish schools.”

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Sommerville said the importance of ventilation “is absolutely recognised”.

Sommerville pointed to the Scottish Government’s £90m for mitigation measures earlier in the pandemic, which included ventilation advice, and another £10m for Co2 monitoring.

She said health and safety experts have argued some ventilation systems are not an appropriate substitute for natural ventilation, adding: “We absolutely listen to the concerns of our stakeholders, but we listen very carefully also to the expert advice, which is very much around natural ventilation and the filtration only being used if nothing else can be done, and only in the short-term.

“If there are any concerns, and we reiterate this to all the unions that we meet very regularly with in the education recovery group, there are aspects of this that can be taken up a local level if teachers have concerns or directly with the unions if it’s not being adequately addressed.”