FMQ: Nicola Sturgeon defends proposal to cut school doors for ventilation

The Prime Minister said £5 million in funding would be given to councils to enable them to take “whatever steps” are necessary to improve airflow in classrooms.

It comes after education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said some 2,000 classrooms needed improved ventilation, at an estimated cost of £4.3m.

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This included £1.6m worth of air filters, £2.4m worth of mechanical fans and £300,000 worth of doors that will be “cut back to increase airflow”.

Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy Prime Minister John Swinney. Image date: Tuesday November 23, 2021.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called the latest idea “crazy”.

He said: “It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t such a serious problem. In fact, there is a fire safety point here.

“A retired firefighter has warned that doors to a school are essential to contain heat and smoke in the event of a fire.”

Ross added: “Bringing in air filters for classrooms is a much more sensible suggestion that all parties support, but the SNP needs to distribute them quickly.

“They have been too slow to act on ventilation, but we have seen during the pandemic that schools have fallen down this government’s list of priorities.

“The Prime Minister must ensure that all serious ventilation measures, without cutting off the ends of classroom doors, will be in place by the time schools return after the February holidays.”

Responding during Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon accused the Tory leader of being “totally childish”.

She said: “We are not demanding that the local authorities cut anything off the gates.

“We are allowing local authorities, guided by health and safety considerations, to take whatever action they deem necessary.”

She said the schools are “fit for use”, adding: “The Scottish Government continues to take a number of steps to ensure children and staff working in schools are as safe as possible for them.

“One of those measures, of course, is one that Douglas Ross opposes, against all logic and the most expert evidence, which is asking staff and students in our high schools to wear face coverings.”

Ms. Sturgeon said there were “several things” that could be done to improve indoor ventilation.

She said: “Partly that may be about air filtration to purify the air, partly about ventilation, so mechanical ventilation systems, but also partly, and this is the key point, it’s about Take steps to ensure that the natural flow of air in a room is maximized.

“If you have doors or windows that aren’t allowing that natural flow of air in the way that you’d like, then it would seem like basic common sense to me that you’d take steps to rectify that.

“What we have done is give additional money to the local authorities so that they can take any measures (air filtration systems, mechanical ventilation or basic rectification of the structure of the classrooms) to improve the natural flow of air.”

She added: “That seems like basic common sense to me and if Douglas Ross wants to have serious discussions about these matters then maybe he could start by making sure it’s an adult discussion.”

Mr Ross asked if the Scottish Government had engaged with the fire service on the safety of the door modification.

Ms. Sturgeon said that the consideration would go to the local authorities.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister was later asked why the doors could not simply be opened.

He said: “It speaks for itself that to improve ventilation, there are basic steps you can take.”

Speaking at Holyrood’s Covid-19 recovery committee earlier, Labor MSP Alex Rowley demanded that ministers show evidence of the proposal.

“I wonder how it occurred to you that this is the solution and how committed are the local authorities?” he asked Deputy Prime Minister John Swinney.

“Where is the evidence that spending £300,000 to cut down school gates will be the answer?”

Swinney insisted that local authorities were closely involved in the development of the guide.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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