| 8.3°C Dublin

Schools ‘need expert support on purchase of HEPA filters’


Stock image

Stock image

Stock image

Schools say they need more official support to decide on what HEPA filters they should buy to help tackle Covid in the classroom by cleaning the air.

The country’s 4,000 schools will receive direct funding for their purchase, rather than making them available through a centralised Department of Education procurement process.

The money will be paid through the annual minor works scheme, which is being expanded this year and boosted to €62m in value to allow for investment on air filtration, along with, or as an alternative to, other  works normally covered by this grant.

Primary and special education schools will share €45m, up 50pc from €30m last year, while post-primary schools, which are not normally covered by the minor works scheme, will receive a total of €17m.

Not every classroom may need a HEPA filter and the Department of Education has issued general technical guidance on their use.

Filters vary widely and prices being regularly quoted were on the order of €300-€700 per classroom, but last week Taoiseach Michael Martin put a figure of between €1,500 and €1,800 on the air cleaners that schools would need. The cost of individual  units will have a huge bearing on how far the money will stretch.

While there was a general welcome for the increased funding, education representatives say schools don’t have the necessary expertise and are calling for support to underpin the purchase of filtration equipment.

The Department will issue a further circular to schools this week and the education sector is waiting to see the detail of that. It is understood that it will advise schools to contact a local architect or engineer, if they have doubts about how to proceed.

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle described the extra funding as “a step in the right direction” but said it was essential “that clear guidance is given to schools to enable this money to be put to good use in the new year.”

Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) CEO Páiric Clerkin said it was a welcome development but that primary schools were going to need a lot of support in terms of ensuring that it was managed effectively and efficiently.

He said schools would need to be able draw on relevant professionals to ensure that they were putting the right system in place.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland general secretary Michael Gillespie also said it was crucial that the Department of Education “provides access to expertise on ventilation and related issues so that schools can best use the resources available.’

He said “the importance of adequate ventilation in keeping schools and colleges safe has been continuously referenced and universally recognised, but it must be borne in mind that no two schools are the same.

“Even within particular schools, classroom spaces are not uniform in terms of size, shape, orientation and ventilation facilities.”

Sinn Féin education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the Department had “dropped a Christmas present of additional administration on the desks of school leaders who are already under severe pressure.”

“School leaders will have to jump through significant hoops if they decide to purchase HEPA filtration. The guidance produced by the Department on the type of filtration to buy is incredibly technical and unclear,” he said.
He said filtration would have been better centrally procured and “the least the Department could have done is provide clear support for principals on what to buy and where to buy it.”

Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin welcomed the additional funding but said the initiative was as “too little too late”.
He called on the Government to provide the funding to schools without delay and ensure that areas most impacted by Covid outbreaks have access to HEPA filters before schools return from the Christmas break in January.

Most Watched