Reading time: 4

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

Does your classroom need some air?

Oppressive, muggy, stifling…

… you can’t mistake the smell of a stuffy classroom that hasn’t had its windows open for half the day. You walk in and wallop, the stuffiness and staleness hits you like a brick wall! The classroom air feels heavy and warm and everyone inside is either flagging or sagging. It’s almost suffocating and it’s definitely not healthy or conducive to learning. Groggy learners are not going to be at their best or learning much.

Fresh air is the engine of learning. It also means fewer absences.

Get Some Air

Ventilation is so important wherever we work, but with lots of people in a classroom (which is about four times more densely occupied than an office), it is vital we pay close attention to our physical environment and monitor the indoor air quality. Especially as this can influence health, behaviour and results.

A study by Tess Stafford at the University of New South Wales found that improved indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools positively impacts student performance and schools should not ignore the significance of air quality indoors.

Scientists from Aarhus University have also established that poor air quality in classrooms has a negative impact on students’ performance. Studies in four Danish classrooms demonstrated that the pupils performed up to 7% better at a higher fresh air supply compared to the usual indoor air quality. The simple act of opening a few windows and doors to let in some fresh air can make all the difference to everyone inside and can easily avoid fatigue and difficulties in concentrating.

A study by the German research institute, Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP, found far too many children sit in classrooms with excessive levels of carbon dioxide and an inadequate supply of daylight. Prof. Dr. Gunnar Grün, a lead researcher at Fraunhofer IBP said:

Our study shows that the quality of the indoor climate in schools, in terms of access to daylight and fresh air, has a significant effect on the learning capabilities of the children. As we have found that many schools in Europe do not have an optimum indoor environment, we hope that this report will encourage public authorities to take action.


Published by the European Respiratory Society, the European Lung White book has also found that the internal air within schools is often poor quality because they are poorly ventilated and several pollutants have been found in classrooms such as bacteria, moulds, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter.

 Associations have been reported among the concentrations of pollutants and the onset of health problems in schoolchildren, mainly respiratory/allergic symptoms and diseases.

Clear The Air

Allowing fresh air to circulate in our schools is important for a number of reasons:

  1. It clears away the cobwebs

Well, almost…if there is no fresh air entering a room or corridors, then pollutants are going to either linger or build up and multiply which is never going to be good. We’ve all been in a staff meeting for a couple of hours without ventilation, and everyone comes out feeling irritable complaining of a headache or feeling sick. Our classrooms are the same, so if we can remove the pollutants with some fresh air then we can make the learning environment more comfortable in an instant.

  1. It cleans our bodies

Our brains use 20% of the body’s oxygen supply so we need as much oxygen circulating as we can to keep our minds as sharp as a box of razors. More fresh air can bring us greater clarity and improve our focus. Fresh air can clean the lungs and gets rid of impurities because when you breathe out through your lungs, you release airborne toxins. Fresh air helps the airways of our lungs to dilate more fully.

  1. It can combat illness

We spend a huge amount of time indoors and if we don’t get the fresh air we need then we can easily become unwell. Classrooms are notorious breeding grounds for germs and its little wonder that we pick up all sorts of respiratory infections. Fresh air can play is part by keeping a room fresher and improve our immune systems.

  1. It can make us happier

A good blast of fresh air can release serotonin which can dramatically alter our mood, help us feel more energised and promote a sense of happiness and well-being. Airless classrooms aren’t happy spaces or places to learn. If we can introduce some fresh air then this will help us to feel far more refreshed and relaxed.

Off The Air

In the report Clever Classrooms undertaken by the University of Salford, researchers found that the differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms, such as air quality, colour and light, can together increase the learning progress of primary school pupils by as much as 16% in a single year. Clever Classrooms say:

Opportunities to improve air quality should be grasped. In a typical classroom with thirty pupils it will normally be necessary to open a window within the duration of a lesson. If not practical, opening the windows between the classes is strongly suggested.

Fresh air really does do us good, so open some windows, fling open the doors and let everyone breathe. We spend 90% of our time indoors so sometimes we just need to get outside for some much needed outdoor learning. We all need to be clever classrooms and think about how good the air quality is for our students to learn.

For further commentary, ideas, solutions and guidance please refer to the DfE 2016 draft for publication ‘Guidelines on ventilation, thermal comfort and indoor air quality in schools’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.