Air Conditioning for schools

Schools live and die by their examination results: good results attract more able students and teaching staff, which in turn leads to further improved results.  Therefore a promise of a heat wave from the Met Office can drive fear in to the heart of any headteacher, as the temperatures can seriously affect pupils’ performance.

Exam-time pressures can effect even the most diligent of students and the added burden of soaring temperatures can push some pupils too far. The inability to concentrate and fatigue are two direct symptoms of being too hot, which can be devastating in the exam hall.

It is not only high temperatures on exam day that effect results though. Many schools are ill-equipped to cope with any prolonged period of extreme heat, meaning children can become dizzy, fatigued and struggle to concentrate. If these conditions continue over a number of weeks, the critical exam preparation period and revision time can also be negatively effected.

At present, there is no prescribed maximum temperature for educational establishments except for The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992, which require employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a ‘comfortable’ temperature is maintained. The World Health Organization states that, in temperate climates, the optimum indoor temperature is between 18°C and 24°C but the NASUWT teachers’ union wants an agreed limit of 24°C as the cut-off point for lowering room temperature in the classroom.

Unfortunately very few of the UK’s school buildings are designed for heat waves, such as the one that struck in 2006, when temperatures exceeded 35°C. Not only are premises poorly ventilated but many classrooms have entire walls of glass, ineffective blinds and failing air-conditioning.  Not only that, but in some circumstances, today’s children are shoe-horned in to tiny classrooms not designed for such numbers.  The result is high temperatures and restless pupils.

On a more positive note, some ‘super green’ schools built in the last three years do have in built air-conditioning but these systems tend to be dual purpose units for heating and cooling and are often under-specified due to budgets. This means that even they struggle to be effective in extreme conditions.

The UK’s temperate climate means that, in general, we do not often experience dramatic extremes in temperature which is good news for schools, colleges and universities. However when a heat wave hits,
portable air conditioning can provide a number of benefits such as the ability to hire equipment only when it is needed during extreme conditions or during that all important exam period – keeping cost to a minimum.
Hiring portable air conditioning units also provides an assurance of the quality, as only the latest, safest, serviced equipment will be supplied – no further maintenance headaches for management to consider.

There are three main types of portable air conditioning available unit but the one that proves most popular in schools is the exhaust tube model. The main components (the evaporator and condenser) are positioned within the room unit and an ‘exhaust tube’ is used to remove the hot air from the room – usually through a window.

When a heat wave hits, it can be tempting to hire the largest available air conditioning unit.  However, it is always worth seeking guidance on the type and size of system for individual circumstances to both maximise the effective removal of hot air and avoid unnecessary operating costs. In particular, within an education setting, it is necessary to consider the health and safety aspects of hiring portable air conditioning to ensure there is a suitable child-friendly setting or location.

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