Advancing School Performance: Indoor environmental quality, Resilience & Educational outcomes.
15 January 2020
Despite the fact that 10 million children in the UK spend 30% of their life at school, around 70% of that time inside a classroom, the building design determinants of indoor environmental quality in classrooms are poorly understood to date. However, there is significant evidence that poor indoor air quality and exposure to excess indoor temperatures can have detrimental impacts on the learning performance and health of pupils, in particular asthma, placing a high burden on national health services. This is particularly important when we take into account the increased vulnerability of children's bodies to indoor environmental hazards: Children breathe more indoor air pollutants than adults for their size, have a limited ability to thermoregulate and their immune systems are still developing. School buildings are, in the meantime, responsible for 15% of the UK's total public sector carbon emissions, with energy costs associated with heating, cooling, lighting and appliances being a large portion of school budgets. The school building sector could, therefore, play a pivotal role in the UK's transition to a low carbon building stock.
Policymakers, building designers, school managers, educators and parents in the UK recognise the importance of creating healthy and low carbon school environments but they need the tools and mechanisms to identify the best strategies to achieve them. Ensuring high indoor environmental quality in our school buildings whilst meeting pressing carbon emissions reduction targets is an urgent research priority and a major engineering challenge for the UK construction industry. Addressing it will not only help tackle the Government's 2018 Industrial Strategy Clean Growth targets but also help meet national strategic needs to protect the most vulnerable in society, increase educational attainment and reduce health inequities. As a response to this challenge, the interdisciplinary project ASPIRE aims to address a key knowledge gap: Can school buildings achieve low carbon emissions whilst maintaining high indoor environmental quality that enhances learning and health?
We will analyse Department for Education data to construct a library of school building archetypes that are statistically representative of the UK school building stock. The archetype descriptions will include details such as interior layouts and building fabric characteristics and will be used to simulate the energy, thermal and indoor air quality performance of each archetype under low carbon building design and operational strategies in the current and future climate. These scenarios will be co-created as a result of two-way communication with stakeholders from the government, public health bodies, the construction industry and school communities.
By using the relationships established during the systematic analysis of existing field data and the modelled indoor air pollution and temperature exposure levels, we will evaluate the impacts of building energy efficient design and operational strategies, occupancy and climate change scenarios on educational attainment, and health costs at the national level.
The ASPIRE project will pave the way in understanding and improving the holistic performance of low carbon, healthy school buildings, and inform the development of effective policies and best practice school design guidance in close collaboration with our stakeholders.