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Reducing absence in the classroom through best practice cleanliness

Maintaining high levels of cleanliness in schools is essential in keeping disease and illness away from the classroom and keeping pupils in them. Guy Charteris, of Biocote, explains why.

Coughs, colds, diarrhoea, sickness, skin infections: just some of the most common reasons why children are absent from the school. Some infections can spread quickly throughout a classroom and then the school, often resulting in school closures and expensive deep-cleaning. In fact, in the school year of 2014-15, 60.1 per cent of all absences from the classroom were due to sickness.

School absenteeism can have many negative effects. Missing school can cause a child to fall behind on their learning, and as a consequence, do less well in exams – this of course also impacts the school and how it is rated. Research also suggests that children who frequently miss school could also be at risk of getting involved in antisocial behaviour, crime or similar. It can also have a massively negative effect on the economy of the country – parents having to take time off work to look after sick children can impact businesses, and the increased use of supply teachers to replace absent staff not only costs our schools dearly (schools spent £800 million a year on supply teachers in 2015) – but our children too: teacher absences also affect children’s learning.

Preventing absenteeism
So, how we can we reduce the numbers of children, and of course teachers absent from the school classroom?

The idea is simple: create a more hygienic learning environment.

How? By using products and surfaces with built in BioCote protection, guarding against the negative effects of bacteria and other microbes such as mould. It works by incorporating BioCote additives into the product at the time of manufacture, to ensure hygiene is built-in for the lifetime of the product. All products that carry the BioCote logo are tested in the laboratory to ensure maximum antimicrobial performance – this is a requirement of carrying the BioCote trademark and why it is recognised around the world as a sign of antimicrobial quality. However, whilst laboratory testing does provide a reliable means to measure antimicrobial performance, it is not representative of the ultimate test: real life. BioCote looked to demonstrate this by creating the world’s first antimicrobial classroom.

Recording results
A classroom at a primary school in Hertfordshire was completely refurbished with antimicrobial products, which included items such as tables, chairs, carpets, storage, wall paint and more. After being in use by the school children for a number of weeks, swabs were taken and the findings analysed to understand the quantities and varieties of microbes recovered.

To compare the results, the levels of bacteria on comparable products within a standard classroom were also analysed. Repeat samples were taken from the two classrooms for the remainder of the academic year. The results were processed in the laboratory and the findings were very revealing. The antimicrobial classroom had a huge 96 per cent less bacteria across the environment than the standard classroom. There were also no pathogenic bacteria (those that cause sickness) recovered from the BioCote protected classroom. In contrast, pathogens were found in the standard classroom.

Whilst the antimicrobial classroom was technically more hygienic, we questioned how or if this positively impacted the learning environment. For example did absenteeism attributed to illness decrease? With increased hygiene and less bacteria in the environment, it is reasonable to assume there would be a decrease in sickness, which will, in turn, have an effect on the numbers of children absent from school. But was this the case?

Absence levels were monitored across the period of the study. The antimicrobial classroom saw significantly less children absent due to sickness from the school classroom – a 20 per cent decrease in fact.

Whilst these figures apply only to the classroom featured in the study, what if every school classroom across the nation had antimicrobial products contained within it – not only to create a cleaner, more hygienic and better learning environment for our children, but also a dramatic decrease in the numbers of children absent from school as a result of such illnesses.

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