Schools’ air quality monitoring for health and education: Methods and protocols of the SAMHE initiative and project

The SAMHE project consortium

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Children spend significant amounts of time at school, making the school environment a potentially important contributor to air quality exposure. Aim: The SAMHE initiative has a dual aim: 1) to develop and test a bespoke citizen science framework for collecting environment and indoor air quality data in classrooms, alongside contextual data capable of enriching analysis, at an unprecedented scale; and, 2) to simultaneously use these methods to raise awareness among communities regarding their exposure to air pollution in the school environment. Methodology: To achieve this dual aim, the SAMHE project was initiated to deploy more than 2 000 low-cost indoor air quality monitors in school classrooms. A Web App has been co-designed with schools to support collecting a large comprehensive dataset (including school buildings characteristics, operation, and behavioural patterns) and to enable students and teachers to interact with the data gathered in their school. Results and outlook: We present the design of the interface and visuals that have been co-designed with 20+ schools and tested with 120+ schools. Within one week of the SAMHE launch week, 537 schools had registered to join the project, and at the time of writing (just seven weeks later) this number had grown to around 800 schools. This highlights the potential for this novel initiative to provide a step-change in the way that indoor air quality datasets are gathered at a national and, potentially, international level while simultaneously enabling schools to better manage their indoor environment and empowering students and teachers to reduce their environmental health risks.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100266
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopments in the Built Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The ‘School Air quality Monitoring for Health and Education’ project, SAMHE - an extension of the CO-TRACE project, was funded by the EPSRC under grant number EP/W001411/1 , and received additional funding from the UK's Department for Education .

Funding Information:
During the developmental stages associated with school ages, children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because of their high activity levels and developing lungs, which intake more air relative to their body mass compared to adults (Schwartz, 2004). Cumulative evidence points towards an association between school-based exposure to traffic-related pollutants and health outcomes, including increased illness-related absenteeism (Zhang et al., 2022), asthma incidence (Gasana et al., 2012) and asthma exacerbation (Guarnieri and Balmes, 2014). A causal linkage between air pollution exposure and suboptimal lung growth has been further supported by analysis of consecutive longitudinal cohorts in the Children's Health Study (Gauderman et al., 2015) in which the proportion of children with clinically small lungs was reduced as air quality improved between 1994 and 2011. Rising respiratory disease has led to an increasing research focus on indoor air quality in schools and highlighted the need (see §1.5) for the collection and analysis of large-scale datasets of school environments. This can provide more reliable exposure estimates in epidemiological research to draw more reliable health associations. The methods of the SAMHE initiative seek to meet this need in the UK and support others around the world to follow suit; the SAMHE project is working to deploy these novel and scalable methods to around 2 000 schools, as described in this paper.Schools are spread across all of the deciles of the Index of Multiple Deprivation, an index which allows comparison within England, Scotland and Wales of the levels of deprivation according to seven domains of deprivation. Of the 123 Pioneer schools, 22 schools were in the bottom two deciles (most deprived) and 29 were in the top two deciles (least deprived) with a fairly even distribution in the other deciles. A higher percentage of fee-paying schools (18.7%) than is representative for the UK were within Pioneer schools. Pioneer school sizes range from less than 100 pupils (3.3% of schools) to those with more than 1 000 (34.1% of schools), and educate ages 5–18, with the largest number of schools teaching ages 11–16. West 2023 (Under review) presents further details of the co-design process that developed the SAMHE Web App.Communications for the launch used similar mechanisms, but greatly scaled up. Additional promotion routes included a press release by the University of York and coverage in the SAMHE newsletter. Many more school-facing organisations and other stakeholders were directly contacted and the social media reach was much larger. Recruitment of schools in England was boosted by the inclusion of SAMHE information in the DfE sector bulletin, and coverage in a dedicated feature on the BBC Newsround programme. Following slower uptake in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, additional efforts were made to reach schools in those countries, via government contacts and through direct emailing of schools. We also encouraged Co-Design and Pioneer schools to seek local media coverage of their activities as part of our promotion, supporting them by providing a template media pack and guidance. We are not aware that any did so.Secondly, the SAMHE project will exploit the richness of the existing “condition data collection” (CDC) database. 3 The CDC collects building condition, asset and management information on every government-funded educational establishment in England. The CDC database has been collected with the aim to direct future funding allocations to the areas with the greatest need, and to identify school buildings for inclusion in future rebuilding programmes. Cross-referencing parts of contextual data gathered by user's inputs into the Web App with that within the CDC data will enable a degree of quality assurance for both datasets.The ‘School Air quality Monitoring for Health and Education’ project, SAMHE - an extension of the CO-TRACE project, was funded by the EPSRC under grant number EP/W001411/1, and received additional funding from the UK's Department for Education.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Co-design
  • Low-cost sensor networks
  • Particulate matter
  • School engagement
  • Thermal conditions
  • Total volatile organic compounds
  • Ventilation rates

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