Classroom ‘door chopping’: ‘No mention’ in Covid guidance

Ministers have been accused of presiding over “chaos and dysfunction” after analysis of Covid safety guidance failed to find a single reference to proposals for removing the bottom from classroom doors.

The Liberal Democrat attack comes after Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville published a letter setting out the Scottish Government’s plans to improve school ventilation. This includes calculations that detail how £300,000 could be spent on “undercutting” doors to around 2,000 “problematic” classrooms with “persistently high CO2 levels”. 

Lib Dem figures said that, despite widespread concern, ministers had insisted on defending the “wacky” proposals. But Ms Somerville told MSPs her letter was misunderstood and insisted that trimming doors had merely been one element of an “example scenario”.

READ MORE: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville blames ‘wilful misunderstanding’ for door chopping row

She said on Tuesday: “Contributions in this chamber last week were based on a wilful misunderstanding of examples of mitigations that local authorities may implement under certain circumstances to improve ventilation in problematic spaces in schools.

“These examples, which included uses of air-cleaning devices, installation of small mechanical vents and adjustment of doors, were used as a means to generate the overall costs of the up to £5 million top-up fund made available to local authorities to improve ventilation in schools.

“This was set out in the letter to the education, children and young people’s committee which stated the precise remedial measures used in each problematic space should be informed by local circumstances and expert assessment by local authority teams.

“Local authorities must consider legal health and safety obligations including fire safety. Officials have spoken with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service regarding this matter.

“The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have confirmed they understand the Scottish Government’s approach in seeking to improve ventilation in schools. In line with usual practice they are happy to provide advice and support to local authorities regarding any changes to structures which may have an impact on fire risk assessments.”

The Lib Dems have described the Education Secretary’s remarks as “bizarre”.  

READ MORE: EIS demand continued use of face masks in the classroom ahead of crucial review

Wille Rennie, the party’s education spokesperson, said: “I want to get to the bottom of how the Government can make a ridiculous announcement with a six-figure price tag attached and spend a week defending it in increasingly ludicrous terms, despite never actually adding the suggestion into official guidance.

“The question is how on earth did chopping up classroom doors make it into the Education Secretary’s costed plan but didn’t even make the cut for the latest schools guidance. Perhaps civil servants clawed the pen out of the Education Secretary’s hand just in time. 

“This whole thing reads likes like a job creation scheme for joiners that never got off the ground. This is chaotic and dysfunctional government at a time when schools need clear guidance.” 

He added: “The answers to school ventilation are simple: install air filters in every classroom to tackle Covid and CO2 build up and make our schools safer for pupils and staff alike.” 

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