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20 March 2024

All planned new schools sites in England in breach of pollution targets

New research finds 86% of planned new school sites exceeds all three World Health Organization (WHO) targets on major air pollutants small particulate matter (PM25, PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).


The research, published today in the Archives of Disease in Childhood by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s, showed school locations for 147 new schools to be built between 2017 and 2025 in England, including 60 primary schools, 44 secondary schools, 37 all-through schools, and 6 sixth form colleges, all exceeded at least one WHO target.

Previous research reviewed the plans for 36 of these 147 available school proposals for mentions of ‘air quality’ and ‘pollution’ but none included these terms. This study reveals that new schools are being planned in areas which have high levels of pollution which may be harmful to children’s health.

Dr Florence Tydeman, a Research Associate of Statistics in Population Health

The consequences for health from exposure to excessive levels of air pollutants are well known, say the researchers. Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution, because their bodies, organs, and immune systems are still developing.

The researchers call for air quality assessment at all stages of planning to be mandated, and legislation and guidance to be updated as a matter of urgency. There is currently no legal requirement for air pollution to be considered in planning for new schools despite children spending on an average 35 hours a week at school for half the year.

The current regulations fail to take into account how widespread poor air quality is, and place greater emphasis on ventilation and fresh air rather than on filtration systems.

But unfiltered natural ventilation through windows and passive vents brings polluted outdoor air inside and assumes that major pollutants are absent, which is clearly not the case, point out the researchers.

The findings indicate that air quality around new schools is “alarmingly poor,” prompting researchers to urge the Department for Education to update the guidance on new school proposals so that air quality assessment is mandatory at the proposal stage.

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Research Associate in Medical Statistics