Ventilation is one part of the COVID-safe return to school plan, developed with NSW Health.
Last updated 2 pm 15 October 2021
The role of ventilation in our COVID-safe return to school planning
Ventilation is only one part of the return to school plan. There is a comprehensive range of measures in place, including:
vaccinations for staff and eligible students
additional hygiene supplies
teaching in smaller groups
continuing enhanced cleaning
maintaining 1 person per 4 square metres
servicing and cleaning of air conditioning systems.
We continue to work closely with NSW Health to monitor and respond to the changing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The department’s ventilation and asset use recommendations are informed by:
- NSW Health advice
- expert advice from the Doherty Institute
- expert advice from the World Health Organisation.
This advice tells us that maximising natural ventilation in our learning spaces is the most effective method for minimising the spread of COVID-19 as it is a very effective way to disperse particles in the air. This can be best achieved by opening doors and windows.
What does the advice and research tell us?
- Maximise natural ventilation.
- Open windows and doors.
- Ventilation is part of a range of effective measures such as masks and vaccinations.
Air ventilation assessments in NSW public schools
The department has conducted a statewide review of all windows, fans and ventilation systems in more than 150,000 spaces across our more than 2200 public schools, including preschools, to ensure our schools can operate them as intended. This included checking:
- 650,000+ windows
- 200,000+ ceiling and wall fans
- 19,000+ extractor fans.
The audit confirms the majority of spaces in schools can be adequately ventilated through natural and mechanically assisted ventilation.
Any necessary remediation works identified by the review, such as easing and adjusting windows to ensure they operate as intended, will be completed before the full return to face-to-face learning from 25 October.
How do we know schools have enough ventilation for students to return?
The World Health Organisation has recommended 10 litres per person per second as a safe level of fresh air in classrooms.
We operate schools with a variety of ventilation systems, from entirely naturally ventilated to fully sealed supported by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) or evaporative cooling systems to suit their local environment. The underpinnings of all of these systems are the fresh air requirements specified in the National Construction Code, and Australian Standards. When operating properly this specification allow us to meet or exceed the World Health Organisation recommendations.
The Doherty Institute has reinforced this layered approach to ensuring schools are safe, and that vaccinations, masks and not mixing student cohorts are primary interventions.
We will continue to work closely with NSW Health to monitor and respond to the changing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the health and safety of our school communities.
Providing additional ventilation support to schools
We will continue to provide support to schools to adapt lessons and make full use of all school facilities, including outdoor learning areas. Our advice and the outcome of the audit identifies that we can operate schools safely with the proper use of fresh air ventilation only.
There will be times when maximising natural ventilation may not be the only suitable option to implement in teaching spaces – for example, due to bushfire smoke or poor air quality. In these instances, air purification systems will be provided to schools to improve air quality in teaching spaces. We are purchasing a number of air purifiers to address these issues as they arise to ensure we can mobilise resources and support that will improve air quality in teaching spaces.
Support and guidance will continue to be provided to principals around ventilation, personal hygiene, use of indoor and outdoor learning areas and school activities to ensure schools can operate in a COVID-safe way throughout the term.