'Below-standard' air in UK classrooms


18 August 2022

Almost three in four (72%) classrooms suffer from air quality that is ‘below standard’, according to a new survey asking teachers across the UK about their school’s working conditions.

Nearly three in five teachers (59%) deemed a classroom with poor air quality to be ‘not fit for purpose’ – for either teachers or pupils. Three-quarters (77%) of teachers noticed that sub-standard air quality caused concentration problems in students, while 53% said performance or grades suffered.

The Air Quality in UK Classrooms Report – conducted by air movement and ventilation specialist Airflow – asked teachers at 133 schools across the UK for their insights into working and learning conditions at UK schools.

It found that conditions impacted student health, with three in five (61%) teachers believing classroom air quality is aggravating asthma and other lung conditions in pupils. Ill-effects on health were 55% more likely in cities, where both industrial and road pollution are more prevalent.

This comes in a summer where the UK saw record high temperatures, exacerbating pollution and its effects. Reports from scientists at the EU Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service have warned of spikes in unhealthy levels of pollution around Europe, which are likely to become more common each year. Increased pollution can irritate and inflame the lungs. 

How are teachers being affected?

Almost two-thirds (63%) of all teachers surveyed said poor air quality is affecting teachers’ physical and mental health. While 31% of those at schools with ‘below standard’ air quality reported that despite requesting improvements, no action has been taken.

However, more than a quarter (27%) said their school is trying to improve air quality, but cannot due to a lack of funding or government support.

What improvements do teachers want to see?

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Faced with sub-standard air quality, teachers identified the changes they want schools to make:

  • Replace old heating appliances (which can contribute to indoor air pollution) - 72%
  • Install air filtration or purification systems - 71%
  • Ban cars on streets with schools during school run times - 38%
  • Relocate playgrounds and classroom windows away from roads - 32%

Alan Siggins, managing director of Airflow Developments, said: “We commissioned this survey to raise awareness of the problems poor air quality creates and how it impacts the classroom. Improving air quality is our area of expertise and we know the solutions available to overcome these problems.  

“However, what we didn’t know and what this survey has highlighted is how bad the situation is and how it affects teachers and students. It’s clear that funding solutions need to be found quickly and there must be support from the upper reaches of government for that to happen. Investment in modern ventilation systems is a must for the health of the future generation: we’ve seen first-hand the stark difference good air quality can have.

“To gain this investment, grassroots pressure is required to focus the government and local councils on the issue. Schools, teachers and even parents can raise the issue at PTA meetings or with local councillors to start turning the screw.

“The recent resurgence in Covid cases makes action on air quality even more pressing. Nobody wants a situation where children and teachers are returning to classrooms that facilitates the transmission of the virus.  If measures are put into place, the health of both students and teachers can only benefit.”

Airflow specialises in extractor fans and air ducting, but some of its most popular products are mechanical ventilation with heat recovery systems.

Read the full survey findings here.