Ventilation is one part of the department’s COVID-smart measures, to allow us to prioritise student and staff wellbeing while keeping schools operational.
Last updated 12 pm 30 January 2023
The role of ventilation as part of our ‘baseline’ COVID-smart measures in schools
Ventilation is only one part of the department’s ‘baseline’ COVID-smart measures in our schools. There is a comprehensive range of measures in place, including:
staying home if unwell and testing for COVID-19
strongly encouraged vaccinations for staff and eligible students
additional hygiene supplies including rapid antigen tests, masks and hand santiser
continuation of enhanced day cleaning, focusing on high touch surfaces
servicing and cleaning of air conditioning systems.
Air purifiers have been provided to schools as a supplementary measure to support common areas in schools and can be deployed at the Principal's discretion.
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.
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.
As a result of this audit, the department has made repairs to more than 75,000 windows and 2,000 ceiling fans.
The audit confirms the majority of spaces in schools can be adequately ventilated through natural and mechanically assisted ventilation.
How do we know schools have enough ventilation for students to learn safely in the classroom?
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 air flow, ventilation, good hygiene and strongly encouraged vaccinations 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.
To support thermal comfort, schools may use heating or cooling in conjunction with windows and doors remaining open to continue to allow natural ventilation.
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. We have put plans in place to address these issues as they arise, so we can mobilise support as quickly as possible to improve air quality in teaching spaces impacted by local conditions. This includes maintaining a supply of air purifiers that can be rapidly deployed to schools when the need arises.
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 year.