Schools will have to choose between HEPA filters and other works

Primary schools will get funding in the coming weeks that will allow them to buy HEPA filtration systems, if they don’t have a more pressing need.

t least €30m will be made available to schools through the annual minor works grants scheme, which can be used for a variety of purposes.

There have been calls from schools and education representatives for HEPA filters, but the Department of Education has no plans to provide a stand-alone allocation. The minor works grant covers things like windows, toilet upgrades, furniture and equipment, adapting storage, ventilation and short-term rental of additional spaces.

Traditionally, any ventilation works paid for through the scheme would fund vents in a wall or in a window frame if they were needed in a classroom to enhance the air quality.

However, this year, the expectation is that many schools will use it to buy HEPA filters, to help combat the spread of Covid-19 in classrooms.

One school source said it was already being dubbed the “HEPA grant”, although it means that schools may have to make difficult choices about how to prioritise spending. 

Schools interested in using the grant to buy HEPA filters can expect to pay about €300-€500 per classroom.

Work on finalising details of the minor works scheme is expected to conclude this week and the funding should follow soon after that.

Last year, 3,200 primary schools shared €30m from the minor works scheme, through combination of a basic grant and an allowance per pupil.

A 60-pupil primary school received €6,610 and a 300-pupil school received €11,050. It was based on a €5,500 basic grant plus €18.50 per mainstream pupil and €74 per pupil with special needs attending a special school or attending a special class attached to a mainstream school.

A benefit of the minor works scheme is that it devolves authority for spending to schools and avoids the need for what could be a lengthy centralised procurement process.

But using the money to buy HEPA filters for classrooms could see other necessary work being postponed.

The minor works grant is paid only to primary schools although, last year, post-primary schools also shared a special allocation of €25m for Covid-related works.

It is not clear whether post-primary schools will receive any such allocation this year.

Meanwhile, primary and post-primary schools are sharing €50m to help address the “digital divide” and support children who are most at risk of educational disadvantage through lack of access to appropriate digital infrastructure.

Schools in the Deis programme, which supports schools in disadvantaged communities, will receive double the amount of funding provided to non-Deis schools.

The €50m was secured as part of an investment programme for the Department of Education in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, through which Ireland can access funding from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, the EU’s response to the Covid pandemic. Overall, Ireland expects to receive €988m through this mechanism.

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