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Don't despair, the answer could be in the air!

Mike Booth discusses how improving your school's indoor air quality can reduce absenteeism and improve student and staff wellbeing

Posted by Hannah Vickers | January 18, 2017 | Interiors

By Mike Booth, European Marketing Manager for Air Treatment at Fellowes

Statistics from the Department of Education show that in the 2014/2015 academic year children were absent for nearly 54.5 million school days in England alone. The overwhelming majority of these absences were attributed to sickness – with the common cold and sore throat being the most prevalent. Furthermore, an investigation from an ITV broadcast reported that UK schools spend an astonishing £1.26 billion annually to hire supply teachers to cover sick staff. 

Moreover, various independent studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the number of days a child is absent from school and their academic performance across all school levels. 

A Government report, published in 2016, found that children aged between 10 and 11, with no recorded absences, are 3.1 times more likely to achieve level 5 or above in maths and reading tests than their peers who missed 10 - 15 % of school days. 

Consequently, to give pupils the best possible chance of achieving their academic potential, the Government, school authorities and parents must identify all problems and subsequent solutions to reduce sickness and improve absenteeism. One such problem, which can be often overlooked, is indoor air quality within the classroom environment. 

According to studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher than the levels of pollutants found outdoors. In schools and other large facilities, this figure can rise to more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels. 

Furthermore, poor indoor air quality is particularly harmful to children, as their lungs, heart, brain, hormone and immune systems have yet to fully develop. 

The classroom environment can act as a catalyst for poor indoor air quality

Unfortunately, the classroom environment can act as a catalyst for poor indoor air quality. Science supplies, cleaning products, materials used for arts and crafts and classes such as food technology and physical education can all result in the release of harmful bacteria, chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the localised air supply. 

Short term symptoms of poor air quality include dryness and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin, headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, hypersensitivity and allergies, sinus congestion, coughing and sneezing, dizziness and nausea. 

The good news for schools is that, unlike outdoor air quality, improving indoor air quality is relatively straightforward and can be as simple as adding one complementary process to the hygiene mix – air purification. 

While ventilation, stringent cleaning and hygiene procedures are important to create a clean environment, they may inadvertently contribute to poor indoor air quality. For example, ventilation air filters can become saturated causing microbial growth and odour concerns, whilst cleaning products may contain harmful chemicals or VOCs. 

However, by utilising an air purification solution such as the AeraMax Professional, which incorporates a unique four-stage filtering system, schools can significantly enhance indoor air quality within their classrooms. A HEPA filter (high efficiency particulate air), treated with an antimicrobial layer, allows the AeraMax Professional to capture up to 99.9% of airborne particulate down to as small as 0.3 microns. Additionally, an activated carbon filter adsorbs unwanted odours and VOCs that can lead to poor air quality and a bipolar ioniser breaks down microorganisms and odours throughout the room, providing a cleaner, more hygienic indoor environment.

Undoubtedly, education authorities are faced with a challenging burden, striving to balance the pragmatic realties of tightening budgets and swelling class sizes against the wellbeing of pupils and staff. Nonetheless, the issue of poor indoor air quality and its irrefutable link with student wellbeing and academic attainment cannot be ignored. By adhering to simple and cost effective methods of maintaining clean and healthy air, schools can have a profoundly positive effect on the welfare of their students, reduce absenteeism and create the ideal environment for students to excel academically. 

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