Rising energy bills have created a “big black hole” in school budgets, with some headteachers grappling with price rises of up to 80 per cent, i can reveal.
One head revealed her school had been stung with a £67,000 increase in energy costs, which had to be paid for by making cuts to the learning resources used by pupils.
With gas prices rising across the world, UK schools have found themselves grappling with unforeseen pressures on their budgets.
According to a recent analysis by the Labour Party, schools could see their energy costs increase by up to £80m, with some heads already limiting their heating and asking pupils to wear more clothes as a result.
Dave Woods, the head of Beaconsfield Primary School in Southall, West London, and a branch secretary for the National Association of Head Teachers, told i he was aware of local schools being “quoted for new contracts with rises of 50 to 80 per cent for either gas, electricity or both”.
“As schools will have set their budgets back in March or April 2021 these extra costs will not have been budgeted for,” he said.
Mr Woods said that schools faced an “added problem” because of guidance from the Department for Education to “keep windows and doors open as much as possible due to air circulation to prevent Covid”.
“All these extra costs of heating are mostly just ‘blowing out the doors’ of schools,” he said.
Mr Woods said his school had been “mostly” protected by having gas and electricity agreements in place until late 2022.
However, if bills rose by 70 per cent when these arrangements finished, this would equate to an extra cost of £17,500 – about 80 per cent of a teaching assistant’s salary.
Other schools have not been so lucky in locking in cheaper rates. Sharan Matharu, principal of Elizabeth Woodville School in Milton Keynes, said that energy costs were going up at her secondary school by £67,000 – more than the cost of two newly qualified teachers.
“It was like a big black hole in our funds”, Ms Matharu said. “We’re having to make cuts elsewhere. We’ve looked at all the things we can’t do in terms of building… we’ve cut down curriculum budgets, we’ve looked at our staffing structure again.
“We want to improve our IT infrastructure, replace some computers, but we can’t buy those things because actually we’ve got to find the extra money for this in the budget. We’re going into deficit for next year.”
She said the school was facing a “double whammy” because of extra Covid costs – last week, 17 staff were absent, meaning supply teachers had to be hired instead.
“I don’t know where the Government are expecting schools to find money, when the real term funding is always behind where we should be in terms of inflationary rates,” she said.
Ms Matharu said energy bills were worse for her school, because it is split over two sites and has old buildings which leak heat. She agreed that Covid-related ventilation was exacerbating the problem. “We’ve got every single window and door open, so we’re just losing heat,” she said.
Extra financial support from the Government and dedicated grants to help schools make their buildings more energy efficient would make a big difference, she added.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “Core funding for schools will rise by £4.7bn by 2024-25 compared to previous plans – building on the largest cash boost for a decade provided at the Spending Review in 2019.
“We have started to provide CO2 monitors to state-funded education settings to support staff in balancing good ventilation with keeping classrooms at comfortable temperature, and we are investing millions in long-term projects to build greener and more energy-efficient schools.”
All rights reserved. © 2021 Associated Newspapers Limited.