Covid Scotland: SNP plan to cut bottom off doors in schools is like a Dad's Army plot gone wrong – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Captain Mainwaring and co appear to have been giving advice to tackle the pandemic (Picture: Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images)Captain Mainwaring and co appear to have been giving advice to tackle the pandemic (Picture: Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images)
Captain Mainwaring and co appear to have been giving advice to tackle the pandemic (Picture: Chris Ware/Keystone/Getty Images)
Between the end of the summer holidays and the start of the Christmas break last year, 7,382 pupils and staff had Covid across Edinburgh’s schools.

In the month since schools returned for the new year, 6,709 have tested positive. That is absolutely staggering.

It means that in four weeks we’ve had nearly the same number of infections in Capital schools as the whole of the previous four months. It’s starting to become apparent that classrooms are the new frontline in our fight against Covid, and we need to do something about it.

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Now, these pupils and teachers aren’t coming down with Delta and, while Omicron is more infectious, it’s much less harmful. That said, it means constant periods of isolation where classes are half full, parents having to miss work to tend to isolating kids and teaching staff having to work miracles short-handed. Unless we get a handle on things, this will disrupt learning and attainment still further. So, what do we do?

The solution doesn’t have anything to do with masks. Don’t get me wrong, I think masks have been vital in keeping us safe. However, teachers are now consistently telling me that their requirement in school is having a detrimental impact to both mental well-being and classroom behaviour. I’m keen to see the back of them, but to allow that to happen we need to be confident that the air we are asking our pupils and staff to breath is the best it possibly can be. Right now, it isn’t.

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Last week, I was passed a report that has been hidden from the public since last May. It was commissioned by City of Edinburgh Council into classroom air quality. The results were startling. All but two of those surveyed failed basic CO2 level checks, with some classrooms operating at nearly twice the target level.

That’s troubling information on two levels. Firstly, it means that air isn’t moving properly, that kids are breathing and rebreathing the same air over and over again which is bad news for infection control.

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Secondly, it has an implication for learning as well. It’s a matter of simple chemistry that more CO2 means shorter attention spans, fatigue and ultimately a reduction in attainment. The Scottish government has now been forced to admit that air quality is bad in schools across the whole of Scotland.

You’d think that this admission would have seen the best ministerial and civil service minds assigned to the task, but their solution was like something out of Dad’s Army.

‘Here’s £300k to saw the bottom off classroom doors,’ they cheerfully announced. Not only did this prompt concerns among parents and Scottish Fire and Rescue for what this meant for fire doors, but as a tool for tackling the spread of Omicron, it’s like Captain Mainwaring giving his lads sawn off broomsticks to fight a Panzer division.

Covid didn’t cause the air quality problem in our schools but it revealed it. We now need a permanent solution and that involves equipping every classroom in the country with a Hepa filter unit which will purify and disinfect the air it moves around.

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A small investment, but a vital one, both in our fight against Covid and in our quest for better attainment.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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