The government has still not delivered the 7,000 air purifiers it promised to help make schools Covid-safe, ahead of pupils returning from their half term break.
During the Christmas holidays ministers said the machines would be sent to schools to help improve ventilation in classrooms, but hundreds are still missing in action.
Opposition MPs said government “penny pinching” was to blame and that the promised number of purifiers was too few to cover 30,000 classrooms to begin with.
Government scientists have said since May 2020 that improvements to ventilation in indoor settings like schools are essential to stopping the spread of the disease.
They said one way of achieving this – especially when weather is colder and opening windows is less practical – is to install air purifiers.
Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, personally promised the air cleaning machines at New Year, and said they would help minimise disruption, but the latest stats show just 6,311 have been delivered half a term later.
Attendance data from last year shows that a further 10 million school days were missed due to Covid last term alone – on top of the 115 days education the average child missed between March 2020 and July 2021.
Schools have also been stretched further by teacher absences due to Covid, often spread in the classroom. The Department for Education has told schools that classes should be combined if too many teachers are missing.
Despite falling down the political agenda new Covid cases are still running at around 52,000 a day across the UK.
Responding to the broken government promise on purifiers Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Christine Jardine suggested that companies like Dyson could step in to help cover the shortfall.
“It’s time this government prioritised our children by making sure that their classrooms are safe and the air they breathe is clean,” she said.
“The technology to do this is available and major companies, who’ve benefited from the pandemic and government contracts, should be helping to keep the next generation safe in school.
“The government’s penny pinching means that they haven’t even met their own target of 7,000 units, never mind the hundreds of thousand extra purifiers needed to cover all 300,000 classrooms. If ministers won’t act to protect schools, then it’s right that businesses step in and play their part.”
Ms Jardine added that “industry giants like Dyson must do their bit by donating the air purifiers that our schools are desperate for”.
The air purifiers cost around £400 each and last month it was reported that some parents have taken to buying them for schools themselves.
To qualify for a government air purifier schools must show their classrooms have persistently high CO2 levels, a proxy for poor ventilation. But research by NASUWT, the teachers’ union, found that more than half of UK teachers did not have access to a carbon dioxide monitor in the their classrooms.
The Department for Education (DfE) says air cleaning units are “not needed in the vast majority of classrooms” and “only where there is poor ventilation that cannot be easily improved”.
Robin Walker, the schools minster, said: “Over 99.9 per cent of schools continue to be open with millions of children enjoying vital time with friends and teachers – thanks to the hard work of education staff up and down the country.
“Enhanced ventilation continues to be important and we are making sure eligible settings that have applied for air cleaning units are receiving them.
“The majority of rooms that require air cleaning units now have them, with over 6,000 already delivered and more deliveries taking place every day.”