Cold pupils working with gloves on because Government ‘won’t pay for school air purifiers’ – Manchester Evening News

Cold pupils working with gloves on because Government ‘won’t pay for school air purifiers’ – Manchester Evening News

A headteacher says pupils are being forced to work with windows open because the Government is refusing to fund air purifiers to help schools tackle Covid.

The units can help reduce airborne contaminants in a poorly ventilated space – and are an an additional measure to prevent transmission of the virus within classrooms.

Schools have been given carbon dioxide monitors to help identify areas with poor ventilation.

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But the government is only funding air cleaning units at alternative provision and specialist or mainstream SEND settings.

Iain Linsdell, head of Poplar Primary School in Audenshaw, Tameside, says they have done all they can to improve air quality.

And most days children and staff are in class wearing coats, scarves and gloves because they need to have the windows open.

He says the CO2 monitors ‘simply tell us what we already know, that classrooms are not well ventilated’ – so to then be told to fund the units themselves ‘is doing nothing other than adding insult to injury’.

Iain Linsdell, head of Poplar Primary School in Audenshaw, Tameside
(Image: Poplar Primary School)

“If the government is invested in keeping schools open, then it can’t expect schools – whose budgets are already smashed into – to foot the bill,” said the head.

“It would cost my school nearly £10,000 to have them. That’s just for the classrooms and it doesn’t account for the ongoing costs such as £65 to change a filter.”

After confirming schools would need to buy their own units, the Department for Education has this week launched an online ‘marketplace’ for headteachers to place their orders.

According to Schools Week, it has confirmed deals with French electric goods wholesaler Rexel to offer recommended units for schools at agreed prices, with one unit, the Dyson Pure Cool Formaldehyde TP09, costing £425, and the Camfil City M, costing £1,170.

It has already faced criticism for not choosing cheaper units, but the DfE has said the cleaners were chosen on suitability for education settings rather than homes and the £600 online cost for the Dyson unit suggests the department secured a sizeable discount.

However, Mr Linsdell says if the issue is so important to the government, schools should not be expected to fund them when ‘budgets are already extremely pinched’.

“If it’s really important to keep the children healthy and learning, the government should put their hand in their pockets,” he said.

“They have spent a fortune on support for all sorts of industries and schools really do need to stay open.

“We can’t do any more than we’re doing and we can’t expect our children to be able to give their best if they’re freezing cold and sat there trying to write in their gloves.”

Poplar Primary School in Audenshaw
(Image: Google Maps)

The headteacher says the last term ‘has been the hardest term of all since the pandemic began’ – and they’ve only got through it thanks to the support of parents, staff and the Victorious Academies Trust and its executive team, ‘without the help and guidance’ of which, ‘I couldn’t have coped as well as I did’.

Towards the end of November, beginning of December, the school was hit by what he described as ‘a tidal wave’ of Covid cases with almost every year group affected.

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One Year group needed to be sent home to learn remotely and 40% of teaching staff were absent.

“Without the help of TAs, we would have had to close,” he said. “It was an almost impossible situation. We were in at 7am every day with the leadership team trying to figure out who we could put where to keep the day running.

“In the early part of this school year we were hardly touched by Covid, but from the beginning of December, it just ran through the school and affected almost every year group. In Years 2, 4 and 6 we lost almost all the children for a period of time and most of the staff.

“If purifiers would have stopped that, we needed them when we got the CO2 monitors, which was October. We couldn’t do any more than we were doing – following all the guidance and having windows and doors open.”

Mr Linsdell said at the moment there are no cases of Covid in school, but with attendance down from the usual 96/97% to 89% he thinks many parents have decided to keep their children off in the final days of term to avoid any disruption over Christmas.

“We have seen a drop in attendance,” he said. “The last few days parents have been voting with their feet and why would they not.

“Our parents have been so supportive throughout everything. Even when we had to send a year group home again they were amazing at coping with that.

“We had no complaints, they understood we were doing all that we could to keep the school open. That’s all that we want, but if these machines are so vital for that to happen, then the government should be paying for them.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have provided over 300,000 carbon dioxide monitors to schools, which the vast majority are finding a helpful tool to keep classrooms well ventilated.

“For the small number of cases where poor ventilation can’t easily be solved, we are providing high quality air cleaning devices either for free or through an open marketplace at a competitive price, depending on a school’s level of need and proportion of vulnerable pupils and staff.

“This robust approach to ventilation sits alongside the wide range of protective measures already in place in schools, helping deliver the national priority of protecting face-to-face education.”

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