Academy trusts demand energy grants for schools

Confederation of School Trusts also warns 9 in 10 of its members believe pay rises are 'unaffordable'

Confederation of School Trusts also warns 9 in 10 of its members believe pay rises are 'unaffordable'

A body representing the country’s largest academy trusts has demanded energy grants for schools, as nine in 10 leaders also warned upcoming pay rises were “unaffordable within existing budgets”.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, has written to the new government to warn some trusts faced increases “surpassing 500 per cent”, which is “clearly not sustainable”.

It comes after a Schools Week investigation found schools were considering cuts to jobs, books and building work to fill budget black holes, while others say heating will be turned down and class sizes raised without adequate government aid.

Cruddas said the rise in energy costs was the “most urgent” challenge facing education, “with no price cap for schools or other critical public sector organisations”.

gender pay schools bill energy

New prime minister Liz Truss is to imminently announce plans to help households and businesses with energy costs, but no mention has been made of schools.

“Our members have shared with us details of increases in some cases surpassing 500 per cent. This is clearly not sustainable and, more importantly, directs funding away from the education of children,” Cruddas said.

Schools Week’s investigation this week found more than 350 schools renewing through one broker in August faced average gas cost rises of 499 per cent. Schools are increasingly struggling to find deals at all as volatility has left many suppliers offering only variable tariffs.

Analysis suggests trusts’ combined energy bills for autumn and winter have more than trebled on 2020-21 levels – up more than £400 million across 10,000 academies.

Most trusts say pay rises ‘unaffordable’

Cruddas also warned the cost pressures come on top of “unfunded public sector pay awards”, and “90 per cent of our members have told us that pay awards are unaffordable within existing budgets”.

“To be clear, we believe paying teachers, support staff and leaders well is crucial to our economy. However, the announcements on public sector pay were made after budgets had already been set.”

The growing cost of living crisis will also see more families in “absolute poverty” this winter, Cruddas warned, adding that “doing nothing is not an option”.

“The government must ensure pay awards are funded, energy grants are provided, and wider inflationary pressures are mitigated.

“Specific, costed, credible policy proposals must be found to support the public sector and families, and we must ensure our duty of care to children is not undermined by a budget that is not fit-for-purpose.”

Savings during Covid lockdowns pushed academy surpluses to £3.96 billion last year. This is enough to pay off combined deficits of £22 million in the sector 178 times over. Maintained schools saw similar record improvements, with a net £2 billion surplus in 2020-21.

But while schools may appear “awash with cash” to the Treasury, reserves are “not universal and will run out pretty quickly,” said Stephen Morales, chief executive of the Institute of School Business Leadership.

Unions demand action on school funding crisis

It comes as union leaders urged new education secretary Kit Malthouse to act to address the growing school funding crisis.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT leaders’ union, said Malthouse was “starting his role at a critical time”.

“School costs have sky-rocketed and staff morale has plummeted. The disadvantage gap is at a 10-year high, whilst recruitment to teacher-training falls towards a 10-year low.”

He said putting education back on an even-keel would require “sharp-elbows in securing emergency funding from Treasury”, but also “a willingness to listen to and work with the teaching profession, to achieve our shared goal of improving life-chances for all”.

Geoff Barton, from the ASCL union, said the funding situation “will result in cuts to educational provision unless the government provides urgent financial assistance”, adding the “severe and widespread shortage of teachers” was another “critical issue”.

“Funding and teacher supply directly affect the outcomes and life chances of children and young people. They are the essential resources upon which every other ambition and goal relies.

“Rhetoric and white papers will not improve attainment and social mobility without these prerequisites. We urge the new education secretary to focus on what really matters rather than the policy gimmicks and political posturing which often emanate from the government.”

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