Energy cost crisis: A third of schools planning deficit budgets

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

A third of schools are planning for a deficit budget by the end of next year as a direct result of soaring energy costs.

Research involving more than 1,000 school leaders in England found that they are anticipating an average 106% increase in energy costs over the next 12 months.

One in six of the respondents is predicting an increase of 200% of more in their bills.

The survey was run by the National Association of Head Teachers in March and April and the results published to coincide with the union’s annual conference, which took place in Telford this weekend.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak acknowledged rising energy costs earlier this year when he unveiled a support plan that would see a majority of households get £350 to help with bills.

This came as energy watchdog Ofgem increased the energy price cap from April 1 by £693 to £1,971 a year.

However, so far there has been no moves from the Department for Education (DfE) to offer additional financial support for schools.

One residential special school told us that they are bracing for a 192% increase in their gas bill – roughly equivalent to £50,000. The headteacher said: “I genuinely don't know how we are going to make it through the year.”

Elsewhere, in Hertfordshire, schools have been warned to expect rises of around 135%, while one large MAT said they were estimating their annual gas bills rising from £500,000 to £1.7m (240%) and electricity rising from £1.1m to £2.3m (110%).

On average, respondents in the NAHT survey – the majority of whom work in primary schools – were expecting to pay an additional £26,786, with average total energy bills expected to rise to £53,298 in the next financial year.

When asked what action they were planning to take to be able to foot the rising bills, the school leaders said:

  • Reducing energy consumption (64%).
  • Reducing investment in equipment for the school (54%).
  • Reducing maintenance and/or capital spending (53%).
  • Reducing investment in CPD (46%).
  • Reducing the number of teaching assistants/or teaching assistant hours (40%).
  • Reducing non-educational support and services for children (30%).
  • Reducing the number of teachers or teaching hours (15%).

One school leader responding to the research said: “I was going to take on a support assistant for a year for SEN but can't afford to commit to a year's salary.”

Another added: “I am resigning. We can't run the school without proper funding. We've already had restructures and I don't think we can go any leaner.”

Worryingly, 21% of the respondents said they had used either the Crown Commercial Service’s School Switch service, or one of the Department for Education’s approved frameworks to receive alternative quotes for energy supply. However, the majority of those who had used the DfE’s services (74%) said they had not been able to lower their energy costs.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “Rising energy costs will almost certainly have a negative impact on education, and could hamper their recovery efforts. For some, the energy price hikes are the equivalent to the cost of a full-time teacher.

“Every penny spent in schools is a choice. These increased energy costs mean that money which could be being spent on pupils is being paid to energy companies instead.

“The government’s attempts to restore school spending to 2010 levels is being rapidly eroded by these and other cost pressures. The government needs to do more to ease the impact of the energy crisis on schools, for children’s sake.”


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