Thursday, 12 May 2022
Department of Education and Skills
246. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the number of HEPA filters purchased or rented by primary, special education, and post-primary schools since the announcement in December 2021 of funding available for HEPA filters in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24026/22]
Managing ventilation is just one of a suite of public health measures in place to keep our schools safe. Updated guidance for schools on Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools was provided at the end of May following the work of an expert group that carefully considered the role of ventilation in managing COVID-19. The updated guidance for schools is also fully in line with the most recent guidance on non-healthcare building ventilation during COVID-19, published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre November 2021.
To provide additional support in the context of Covid-19 the payment of a minor works grant totalling €45m for primary schools and special schools, plus a once-off Covid-19 minor works funding of €17m for post-primary schools, was issued in December 2021. All recognised schools in the free scheme have received their grants and had the discretion to use the grant to meet their needs.
Given that each school setting is different, individual schools are best placed to decide how best to use this funding to address their particular needs. Specialist advice/assistance of a Chartered Engineer or Registered Architect is an important source of support for schools. This will help ensure that appropriate solutions are being put in place to address ventilation issues including advice on whether a HEPA Air Cleaner Unit is required to deal with a poorly ventilated room. There is no one solution that fits all scenarios, each application requires bespoke analysis and selection of the appropriate unit(s) matched to the specific room size and volume.
Air cleaning devices are not a substitute for good ventilation but can be considered pending the completion of interventions/works where poor ventilation persists. This is line with the Expert Group recommendations. Air filtration does not negate the need for natural ventilation and opening windows as required. Furthermore Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme has advised that schools not rely solely on air filters.
In the case where a school has difficulty engaging a Chartered Engineer or Registered Architect the Department can assist, with a dedicated ventilation team available to support school principals in this regard. Schools that identify inadequate ventilation in a room can utilise their minor work grant or apply for emergency works grant assistance to address ventilation enhancements where the minor work grant does not cover the full cost of the works required.
Outside of the minor works grant funding to date 27 schools have applied for additional funding under the emergency works scheme to assist with ventilation. Of these, 15 have been approved, 1 was returned to the school to review the scope of the application, 2 were incorrectly classified as ventilation related and assessed separately, 7 were rejected as the application form was not fully completed and 2 are currently being assessed by a member of the Department’s technical team. None of the 15 approved identified a need for an air filter.