Are classrooms too hot for learning?
I’ve walked into some classrooms and the wall of heat just hits you. They are baking hot, the atmosphere feels thick and heavy and unsurprisingly everyone inside looks half asleep. Heat really messes with learning.
We aren’t just talking about temperatures in the height of summer either but also in winter when the heating is ramped right up and no one opens a window.
I’ve always been confused by the fact that we have laws for a minimum working temperature (16C or 13C where rigorous physical activity is taking place) but not a maximum one.
For anyone that has worked inside an office you will know what a contentious issue a ‘reasonable’ working temperature really is. Like classrooms, they can be baking hot or freezing cold, especially if someone meddles with the air-con.
The National Education Union (NEU) has thankfully raised the subject of thermal quality and turned the heat up on the debate around what conditions help or hinder learning.
They say that if a classroom is too hot then this can lead to tiredness, fatigue and ill-health. In terms of pupils’ learning efficiency, cooler is best (Wargocki and Wyon, 2007).
The NEU recommends that the maximum temperature for a classroom should be 26C.
Hallelujah, I have been campaigning for this wellbeing issue for years in every workplace I have toiled in. The health and safety of pupils and staff is paramount but largely ignored.
In its response to a Scottish Government consultation on Updating the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) have called on the Scottish Government to “to bring forward a bold and imaginative initiative by proposing a maximum temperature in all of Scotland’s schools.”
Commenting, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “Schools sometimes send pupils home when the school is too cold – but we also need to be aware of the potential risk of classrooms being too hot for pupils and teachers to work in safely.”
Natural light, temperature, air quality, colour and individualised classroom design are amongst the biggest physical factors impacting on pupils’ learning progress.
Clever Classrooms points to research by Mendell and Heath (2005) who critically reviewed evidence for direct associations between the indoor environmental quality and performance or attendance. They found that as temperature and humidity increase, students report greater discomfort, and their achievement and task-performance deteriorate as attention spans decrease.
No one wants accidents and impaired learning experiences for children and young people so will Governments listen and issue a maximum temperature to ensure pupils and staff can work safely and productively?
We need to turn the heat up on the debate in relation to turning the heat down in our classrooms.
As the World Health Organisation say,
A safe, healthy and protective environment is key to ensuring all children grow and develop normally and healthily.
We all need Clever Classrooms.
Is this too much to ask?