1 in 6 heads expect energy bills to treble

Teaching assistant hours face the axe as schools scramble to cope with price hikes

Teaching assistant hours face the axe as schools scramble to cope with price hikes

Around one in six headteachers expect their energy bills to treble over the next year, with many anticipating cuts to support staff spending, maintenance and school equipment. 

New survey data from school leaders’ union NAHT found school leaders were anticipating an average 106 per cent increase in costs. 

But 16 per cent of the 1,000 survey respondents, most of whom work in primary schools, are expecting a hike of over 200 per cent.

As a result, 64 per cent are planning to reduce energy consumption, while more than half are cutting investment in school equipment and maintenance. 

Forty per cent of heads said they would reduce teaching assistants, while 15 per cent said there were reducing the number of teachers, or their hours. 

Continuing professional development is on the chopping block for 46 per cent of heads, while a third will cut non-education support and services for children. 

Paul Whiteman, NAHT’s general secretary, said the hikes could hamper recovery efforts, adding: “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.”

Schools making ‘drastic savings’

Schools Week first revealed how school leaders were budgeting tens of thousands of pounds to cover soaring energy electricity and gas costs.

NAHT’s survey found that on average, leaders were expecting to spend an additional £26,800 on energy this year – taking costs up to about £53,300. 

At Bellfield Junior School, headteacher Nigel Attwood has budgeted for £56,000 this year after paying £25,500 in 2021-22 – a 120 per cent hike. 

As a result, the school will have to cut the number of school trips and “inspirational” paid guest speakers and workshops.

Some staff with temporary contracts will probably not have their terms renewed due to costs, and they won’t be able to fund works to the school building if needed.

“We are in a deprived area and it is difficult to ask parents for that much money for trips or supporting visitors to school, so we fund big parts of them ourselves. But we are going to have to say we can’t do that many trips or visitors.”

More than a third – 37 per cent – of survey respondents predicted a deficit budget by the end of next year as a “direct result” of increased energy costs.

Attwood said his school would be in this position if it doesn’t make “drastic savings” by looking at contracts, resources and staffing. 

DfE considering ‘additional support’

One in five leaders said they had used either the Crown Commercial Service’s school switch service, which closed last month, or one of the DfE’s approved frameworks to receive alternative quotes for energy supply. 

But 74 per cent had not been able to lower their costs. 

DfE has changed its tone on how schools should deal with soaring costs. In February, they claimed that rising bills would have a “relatively small impact” on school budgets, and said they could shoulder “cost pressures” from recent rises in core funding.

But today, a spokesperson said the department was “looking carefully at how these rises will impact schools and considering what additional support we could offer”. 

“Cost increases should be seen in the wider context of funding for schools. In 2022-23, core schools funding will increase by £4bn compared to 2021-22 – a 7 per cent cash terms per pupil boost – and this will help schools to meet wider cost pressures, including energy prices.”

DfE data published this month revealed that 97.4 per cent of academy trusts reported having surplus cash or breaking even in their most recent accounts. 

Tom Goldman, deputy director of DfE’s funding policy unit, told the Schools and Academies Show today that the department was “constantly in discussions” with the Treasury about the adequacy of the school funding settlement. 

He said there were “discussions going on at the moment about the impact of inflation”, but “as of today I haven’t been promised additional funding”.

“I suspect if the government does anything, it is not only schools [where] we’re seeing the current inflation, it’s an impact across the public sector as well as on individuals.”

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