From education to employment

School energy bills doubled last year as cost-of-living crisis threatens learning

Stephen Morgan MP, Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister

Children’s learning and opportunities are being put at risk, Labour has warned, as the Conservatives’ failure to get a grip on rising prices puts the squeeze on school budgets.

School energy bills doubled in the last year, according to data compiled by the House of Commons Library, with further price rises expected as fixed term contracts come to an end.

The new figures suggest that non-domestic gas and electricity prices almost doubled in 2021, mainly driven by the rise in the cost of wholesale gas prices.

Headteachers last year warned they were being forced to strip back additional support for children with special educational needs and disabilities, staff numbers and activities such as breakfast and afterschool clubs. 

Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister, Stephen Morgan MP has urged Ministers to work with schools to ensure children do not lose out on further opportunities due to cost pressures.

Unlike domestic customers, schools are not subject to the energy price cap, meaning there is no limit on the price rises they could face as wholesale prices increase.

An investigation by SchoolsWeek recently found that schools in the North East could expect their bills to rise by to one and a half times their current level as prices soar.

Stephen Morgan MP, Labour’s Shadow Schools Minister, said:

“Children have already faced huge disruption due to the government’s chaotic handling of the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis, made worse by Downing Street, is further squeezing school budgets.

“Ministers must get a grip and engage with schools to ensure children do not lose out on further opportunities.

“Labour is calling on the government to prioritise children’s learning and development post-pandemic, with breakfast and afterschool clubs, tutoring and mental health support. The Education Secretary must match this ambition with a proper plan to secure children’s futures.”

Sector Response

Hayley Dunn, Business Leadership Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Labour is certainly right to throw the spotlight on how energy costs spiralling upwards will further squeeze school and college budgets which have been under significant and continual pressure for many years. We remain concerned at the impact of rising energy costs on budgets already bearing a wide range of cost pressures caused by general inflation and unfunded pay awards.

“Education leaders are used to having to make difficult decisions on spending in order to remain financially stable. That was happening well before the current energy crisis and the grave state of the gas and electricity markets will be creating greater uncertainty.

“The Department for Education has thus far shown a flagrant disregard for the genuine concerns school and college business leaders have about the significant price rises they are facing, downplaying energy costs as a small part of overall budgets. They may have been in the past but some schools and colleges are reporting bills that have doubled in recent months, with the very real prospect of them increasing further in the near future.

“The government needs to recognise the seriousness of this issue and help relieve the financial pressure on schools and colleges by immediately doing more to help them meet the mounting costs of keeping classrooms lit and warm. Ignoring the problem will inevitably result in leaders having to cut spending in other areas of their budgets, with real consequences on the education children and young people receive.”

 Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“Rising energy costs are a huge concern for school leaders. Labour’s analysis shows bills doubled in 2021, which was hard enough – but the massive hikes we’re hearing about so far this year dwarf that.

“Like every household and business, schools are facing rises in energy costs that could cripple their budgets – budgets that are already stretched to breaking point. The government needs to remember that every penny diverted to paying increased energy bills is a penny that can’t be spent on children’s learning and wellbeing. It is pupils that could suffer if they don’t take action to help.”

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