Northern Ireland

Schools flouting Covid guidance over 'frightening' heating costs

Seamus Hanna, Principal of St Colmcille's High School in Crossgar
Seamus Hanna, Principal of St Colmcille's High School in Crossgar Seamus Hanna, Principal of St Colmcille's High School in Crossgar

A CO Down principal has claimed some schools are flouting Covid guidance to keep classroom windows open due to "frightening" heating costs.

Seamus Hanna from St Colmcille’s High School in Crossgar said running costs have become “absolutely dire” for schools in recent months.

He is still working out how much heating oil to purchase, but said one colleague in a neighbouring school had just paid out £18,000.

“I’ve had no heating on whatsoever in the school just yet and I’m trying not to do it at all,” he said.

“I’m looking with staff to see where we can save energy. It’s not just with heating oil, electricity has increased and we have technology in school that we simply have to use like computers.”

On the guidance to keep windows open, even partially, Mr Hanna said other school leaders had told him they had no choice but to prioritise heating.

While hopeful there will not be a significant rise in Covid figures this winter, he said would be difficult to monitor as testing was no longer in place for pupils and staff.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said that in line with the latest public health guidance, fresh air ventilation remained “one of the most effective” measures for preventing the transmission of Covid.

For schools, this included keeping windows and doors “partially open (to) provide acceptable ventilation while keeping classrooms comfortable.”

The other measures were; Opening higher level windows to create fewer draughts, opening windows in between classes and keeping doors open to allow air flow and further ways to ventilate areas.

Schools who feel there is a need to review ventilation in a specific room or area of a school have been told to contact the Education Authority.

On the challenges with heating bills, the spokesperson said officials were keeping the situation under review and would be given “due priority” in any future budget discussions.

“However, it is anticipated the recent announcement of support from the UK Government for households, businesses and public sector organisations facing rising energy bills will help mitigate against increasing energy costs."