The Deputy may be aware the Department of Education provided additional support in the context of Covid-19 the payment of a minor works grant totalling €45m for primary schools and special schools, plus a once-off Covid-19 minor works funding of €17m for post-primary schools.
Managing ventilation is one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe.
The Expert Group note in its own report that very good advice is contained in the Department of Education’s Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools.
They also note that it must be emphasised that ventilation should be delivered as part of a layered strategy of protective measures to control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Along with these preventative actions, ventilation further reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.
The over-arching approach in the guidance is for schools to have windows open as fully as possible when classrooms are not in use and partially open when classrooms are in use.
The Departments Guidance is clear that where the recommended measures in the Practical Steps and poor ventilation continues to exist in a particular room/area, air cleaners may be considered as an additional measure in conjunction with other methods of ventilation that are available. This is line with Expert Group guidance which identifies that in areas with poor ventilation that structural interventions and measures to increase natural ventilation should be completed. Where such structural interventions or measures are not possible in the short term, that consideration should be given to using stand-alone HEPA filter devices in poorly ventilated spaces pending the completion of structural interventions.
The updated guidance for schools is also fully in line with the most recent guidance on non-healthcare building ventilation during COVID-19, published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre on 18th November 2021.
There is no one solution that fits all scenarios, each school requires bespoke analysis and an appropriate ventilation solution matched to the specific room size and volume. Given that each school setting is different, individual schools are best placed to decide how best to use this funding to address their particular needs in line with the Department’s Guidance. In this context the requirements for each school will be determined locally by schools, who may get specific advice/assistance of a Chartered Engineer or Registered Architect on the appropriate measures they should take for enhancing ventilation.
HEPA air cleaning devices are not a substitute for good ventilation but can be considered pending the completion of interventions/works where poor ventilation persists. This is in line with the Expert Group recommendations. HEPA air filtration does not negate the need for natural ventilation and opening windows as required. Furthermore Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme has advised schools not to rely solely on HEPA air filters.
Ireland’s 16 Education and Training Boards provide support on all matters to schools under their remit and in all cases ETB schools should contact their local ETB Building Officer before committing to any purchases to improve ventilation.