Heating standards for schools in Wales
The legal requirements which specify the minimum temperatures which must be maintained in school classrooms in Wales are set out in the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999.
The regulations require that local authority maintained schools must have heating systems capable of maintaining specified minimum temperatures. They also require that school rooms are actually heated up to at least those minimum temperatures and the temperatures maintained for as long as the rooms are used for their normal purpose.
The regulations provide that, in areas where there is the normal level of physical activity associated with teaching, the appropriate minimum temperature is 18ºC (64.4ºF). In areas where there is a lower than normal level of activity (eg sick rooms) or higher than normal level of activity (eg gymnasia and also washrooms), the appropriate minimum temperatures are 21ºC and 15ºC respectively.
Temperatures in school classrooms in Wales should therefore be at least 18ºC (64.4ºF).
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which apply to all workplaces, also set out requirements on minimum temperatures in workplaces. Regulation 7 requires that temperatures shall be “reasonable” and the accompanying Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Approved Code of Practice defines this as "normally at least 16°C" (60°F) (para 43) during “the length of time people are likely to be there” (para 49). Although this is lower than the minimum temperature normally required by the Education (School Premises) Regulations, it applies to non-teaching areas as well as classrooms and also applies outside school session times.
There are no legally prescribed maximum temperatures for school premises or other workplaces. The Workplace Regulations and accompanying ACoP require, however, that all reasonable steps are taken to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature by, where necessary, special ventilation measures including provision for fans.
The Workplace Regulations also require that a sufficient number of thermometers should be available, at a convenient distance from any part of the workplace, to enable temperatures to be measured in any part of the workplace. They do not require a thermometer to be provided in every room. Please note that alcohol, liquid crystal strips and digital thermometers can lose accuracy over time and should be used as a general guide. We recommend taking several classroom readings with a digital thermometer, including the official school one, before initiating any action.
The Education (School Premises) Regulations include provisions relating to risks from hot surfaces. They provide that in special schools, nursery schools and teaching accommodation used by nursery classes, radiators and exposed pipes which are located where pupils might touch them must not become hotter than 43ºC.
The NEU does not expect its members to continue to work in situations in which the legal requirements concerning the health, safety and welfare of employees and others are not being met.
In dealing with heating problems, reference may be made to regulation 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 which places a statutory duty upon employees to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and others. This duty may require teachers to withdraw themselves and their pupils from situations in which the physical conditions may affect the health and safety of themselves and their pupils.
The type of heating problems occurring in school usually fall into one of three categories:
- longstanding faults
- temporary faults, which may or may not be capable of being remedied quickly
- problems caused by policies on operation of heating systems.
In general, the employer remains responsible for providing funds for replacement of heating systems which have reached the end of their useful life and for emergency replacement of heating systems. Under local management, funding for general maintenance of heating systems, including replacement of defective parts, forms part of schools’ delegated budgets.
Nevertheless, employers retain legal responsibility for the health and safety of employees and others on the premises such as pupils, and also retain the power to arrange for work to be carried out in schools which is necessary for health and safety reasons, and to charge schools’ delegated budgets accordingly.
Head teachers are responsible for the internal organisation and management of schools. They have the power to act in emergencies, including by deciding to close all or part of schools in the case of heating system failures. Where such decisions are taken, adequate notice of closures should be given to parents. Pupils should be given letters to parents informing them that closures will continue until adequate heating has been restored. Closing schools will not, however, usually be possible on the first day of heating failures since adequate notice to parents will not be possible.
Many problems result from longstanding faults or inadequacies in school heating systems which local authorities/academy trusts or governing bodies are unable or unwilling to replace or repair. Where such faults exist, the following steps should be taken:
- The matter should be raised with the head teacher and information sought on the action proposed by the employer to repair or upgrade the heating system.
- Temperatures should be monitored in any classroom or other area with heating problems on a twice daily basis at the same time each day in order to provide evidence of the problem.
- If the school employer is unwilling to accept that difficulties exist or seeks to argue that they are unable to take action on financial or other grounds, the NEU should be contacted for assistance.
- Where temperatures are consistently below the levels required by law, the head teacher should take appropriate action to ensure that teachers, support staff and pupils are not required to work in inappropriately heated areas. Such action might include bringing in temporary heating sources, rearranging timetabling in order to move classes, or closing all or part of the school.
The NEU does not regard the use of temporary portable heaters as an appropriate solution other than as a genuinely temporary measure in emergency situations while action is being taken to repair the heating system. Portable gas heaters should not be used where other temporary heating systems are available which do not pose health and safety risks from fumes, fire hazards etc. Where such heaters are provided in the absence of any other temporary heating system, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on the safe use and storage of portable gas heaters should be followed.
Sudden temporary faults
Where sudden faults or failures arise with heating systems, the NEU safety rep should ensure that the head teacher has firstly taken action to ensure that the system is repaired as quickly as possible and, secondly, given consideration to appropriate additional measures to be implemented until the system is repaired. Again, such measures might include bringing in temporary heating sources, rearranging timetabling in order to move classes, or closing all or part of the school.
Where temporary faults occur which can be resolved within 24 hours, school closure will, as noted above, in most cases be impossible since there will be no opportunity to provide notice of closure to parents. Other appropriate action may be possible, which may include closing those parts of schools most severely affected, rearranging timetabling or bringing in temporary heating sources.
The NEU advises against the use of portable gas heaters unless no other temporary heating system is available.
Problems caused by the employers heating policies
In some cases problems are encountered due to inadequate levels of heating caused by employer policies designed to save heating costs. These can include turning down boiler temperatures at all times; switching systems off when pupils leave.