Education consultants have a lot to consider when trying to make the correct decisions regarding the design of school buildings. Making a wrong decision can have a tremendous impact on the health and wellbeing of pupils and teachers. In a study by the Education Funding Agency, it reported that just 5% of the 59,967 school buildings studied were classed as performing as intended and operating efficiently.
If we are to provide the optimum learning environment for future generations, it is crucial that a school’s design is carefully considered. Over 90% of teachers believe that well-built and well-designed schools which consider elements such as lighting, spacing and ventilation will be able to improve educational outcomes and pupil behaviour.
Ventilation in schools is something which is particularly important. If a school building isn’t effectively ventilated and the Indoor Air Quality is poor, it can trigger respiratory problems and hamper the concentration and productivity of pupils. It is therefore essential that every school has an effective and appropriate ventilation system in place. Of course, capital cost is an important consideration, as many schools are struggling with a lack of funding. However, capital cost aside, what qualities should an effective ventilation system possess?
In Building Bulletin 101 (BB101); ‘Guidelines on ventilation, thermal comfort and Indoor Air Quality in schools’, it recommended that when measured at seated head-height, during the continuous period between the start and finish of teaching on any day, the average concentration of carbon dioxide should not exceed 1500 parts per million (ppm) (1000ppm for mechanical or hybrid ventilation systems) in a school classroom. It is crucial that the system chosen can deliver this.
It is also essential that the system can adapt depending on the number of occupants in each room. It can be tricky to continuously regulate the air inside a building, which is why a demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) strategy is often the most appropriate for a school as it enables the careful monitoring of a space, taking account of the number of people and their activity levels. A DCV strategy enables a system to do exactly what it needs to, when it needs to. A mechanical, DCV solution constantly measures the concentration and rate of change of CO2 in a room via carefully placed sensors, and automatically adjusts the volume of fresh, filtered air that is brought into the room, matching it with the quantity of stale air extracted.
How discreet is the system?
It is important that the chosen ventilation solution blends into the fabrics of the school and doesn’t disrupt the learning environment. Whilst opening a window is a simple and effective natural ventilation method, it doesn’t allow true control of air quality and can lead to cold draughts. Furthermore, if the school is located in a bustling, inner-city location, then opening a window could lead to increased noise and air pollution. Is it essential that factors like these are properly considered.
Is the solution user-friendly?
Over-engineered schools, with Government-specified equipment that very few people know how to operate, is costing schools £150m per year – a cost which could be minimised if systems and equipment were easier to understand and use. It is recommended that education consultants choose ventilation systems which are simple and intuitive enough so that teachers and other staff can make changes easily. In order for this to work, teachers must be able to understand what the ventilation system does, and how to get it to operate in a different way when necessary. Teachers will instinctively know that opening a window will allow air to pass through the building, but do they understand the impact that a mechanical DCV system can have?
If educational consultants take these considerations into account when designing a ventilation system, then it is likely that excellent air quality will become commonplace in our schools, and this can help to drive up educational outcomes and enhance the wellbeing of pupils and teachers, as well as giving better control over future running and maintenance costs.