Ministers have been accused of wanting to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on “chopping up” classroom doors as a Covid safety measure.
It comes after the Scottish Government announced recently that funding of up to £5 million would be available to help schools and early learning centres (ELCs) improve ventilation.
Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie has claimed that a letter from Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville reveals plans to spend £300,000 on chopping the bottom off doors to 2,000 “problematic” classrooms where airflow is poor.
The document, which explains how costings for the ventilation fund were arrived at, states: “The informal local authority feedback indicated that around 2-4% of spaces have so far fallen into that problematic category, equalling around 2,000 spaces out of 50,000 learning, teaching and play spaces across all local authority school and ELC settings.” It adds: “Finally, we have assumed the door in the example space will need to be undercut to increase airflow, at a cost of £150, in line with business ventilation fund guidance. 2,000 x £150 = £300,000.”
The letter stresses that costs will vary significantly in practice. “We do not, for example, expect that every problematic space will need an air cleaning device,” it says. “Settings may instead opt to relocate classes to alternative spaces while alternative, longer-term measures are put in place.
“However, using an example scenario to build an indicative cost per problem space is in our view a sound basis for deciding on the overall quantum for the funding.
“Some members of the [Education, Children and Young People] Committee expressed a particular interest in the cost of air cleaning devices and the number of any such devices that could be purchased using the additional funding. Again, I would like to reiterate that this funding is not intended purely for air cleaning devices – it is intended to support effective remedial works for ventilation, in line with our guidance.
“However, in theory, taking the average cost of £800 above, the total funding available could be enough for 6,000 or more air cleaning devices.”
Commenting on the letter, Mr Rennie, who is his party’s education spokesperson, said: “Rather than putting an air filter in every classroom, the Education Secretary’s solution is sending a handyman round to chop up classroom doors.
“We are two years into the pandemic and three terms into this school year but only now has the Scottish Government admitted there is a problem in thousands of classrooms. Yet this could only be the tip of the iceberg.
“We heard that Edinburgh Council found seven out of nine schools surveyed fell below air quality standards. The government should publish the evidence from councils so we can judge the true scale of the problem.”
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He added: “Opening windows in winter and chopping up doors is an insult to the thousands of teachers and pupils who deserve a better solution to the problems of ventilation.
“Air filters could play a long-term solution with cutting the spread of other infections and improving conditions for good learning.
“The Education Secretary should take ventilation more seriously and pick up the pace on finding proper solutions.”