Nicola Sturgeon has come under pressure over reports her government is planning to “chop up” classroom doors to boost ventilation and protect against Covid-19.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross challenged the First Minister following Liberal Democrat claims that Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville wants to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on the move.
He also cited a retired firefighter who said chopping the bottom off doors would increase the risk of a fire spreading.
It comes after ministers announced that funding of up to £5 million would be available to help schools and early learning centres (ELCs) improve ventilation.
Responding to Mr Ross during First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon defended government policy and said work to support natural airflow could include “basic rectification of the structure of classrooms”.
She told MSPs: “Our schools are fit for use. Thanks to the dedication of teachers and other school staff, thanks to the sacrifices of young people and their parents, we’ve managed to keep our schools open during some of the most challenging phases of this pandemic, and that’s a credit to everybody in our education system.
“The Scottish Government continues to take a range of measures to ensure that children and staff working in schools are as safe as it is possible for them to be.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “When you’re trying to improve ventilation in a room, there’s a number of things you need to do. Partly that can be about air filtration to purify the air. Partly that is about ventilation, so mechanical ventilation systems… but, partly, it’s about taking measures to ensure that the natural flow of air in a room is maximised.
“So if you have doors or windows that are not enabling that natural flow of air in the way you would want it to, then it strikes me as basic common sense that you would take measures to rectify that. And so what we’ve done is give additional money to local authorities to allow them to take whatever steps – air filtration systems, mechanical ventilation or basic rectification of the structure of classrooms – to improve the natural flow of air. That strikes me as basic common sense.”
Mr Ross welcomed plans to install air filters in classrooms but highlighted criticisms that ministers have been too slow to tackle the problem of school ventilation.
He said: “The Scottish Government has had two years to make schools fit for use since the pandemic began, yet now we discover one of their ideas to protect kids and teachers from Covid is the bonkers idea to chop the bottom off doors.
“It would be laughable if it wasn’t such a serious issue. Indeed, there is a fire-safety point here. A retired firefighter has warned that the doors in a school are essential for holding back heat and smoke should a fire start. In light of this did the Scottish Government consult the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service about these plans?
“Bringing in air filters for classrooms is a much more sensible suggestion that every party supports – but the SNP need to get them distributed quickly.
“They have been far too slow to act on ventilation but we’ve seen throughout the pandemic that schools have fallen down the priority list for this government.
“The First Minister must guarantee that all of the serious ventilation measures – not chopping the ends off classroom doors – will be in place by the time that schools go back after the February holiday.”