Last reviewed 7 January 2022

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has announced an additional 7000 air cleaning units to be provided to early years, schools and colleges to improve ventilation at the start of the new term.

The new air purifiers will be for areas where quick fixes to improve ventilation are not possible, such as being able to open a window, and will help to improve ventilation in education settings. This is in addition to the 1000 air purifiers announced for special schools and alternative provision settings.

The cleaning units will be targeted at spaces with the poorest ventilation, based on criteria such as CO2 levels and occupation density. All government-funded early years settings that meet the eligibility criteria can apply. The criteria include:

  • having sustained high CO2 readings (1500ppm or higher) for at least one week, despite taking all current possible measures to improve ventilation

  • requiring lengthy remedial building work to address poor ventilation that cannot be completed before the end of February 2022

  • plans to use the air cleaning units in education and childcare spaces (not other spaces such as staff rooms, corridors and dining rooms).

The news comes amid concerns that the Omicron variant will cause huge disruption as children return to their settings after the Christmas holidays. However, the Government has said that face-to-face education remains a top priority, as the evidence shows it is the best place to be for children’s education and wellbeing.

Ofsted has also confirmed that it will not ask inspectors who are also early years and school leaders to undertake inspections, so they can focus on their leadership responsibilities at this critical time. This will be a temporary measure from the start of January. Ofsted will also encourage early years settings, schools and colleges that are significantly impacted by COVID-related staff absence to ask for their inspection to be deferred.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

“Being in the classroom is undoubtedly the very best place for children and I’m looking forward to welcoming pupils back next week to continue their face-to-face learning, which is so important for their education and wellbeing.

“There is no doubt that the Omicron variant presents challenges but the entire education sector has responded with a Herculean effort, and for that I thank each and every one of you.

“The Prime Minister and I have been clear that education is our number one priority. These measures will bolster our support schools as we do everything in our power to minimise disruption.”

Further information on how to apply for a DfE-funded air cleaning unit is available here.