Schools should not allow their existing energy contracts to expire, as buying out of contract will be “more expensive”, the Department for Education has said.
Schools Week first revealed how school leaders were budgeting tens of thousands of pounds to cover soaring energy electricity and gas costs, which are set to rise by 50 per cent.
But the DfE claimed in February 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.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring statement on Wednesday also included no extra money for schools to pay rising bills, prompting warnings of a “return of austerity”.
But the DfE has now written to heads, advising them not to “allow their existing contracts to expire”.
Schools should instead “contact their current suppler to discuss a contract extension, as buying energy out of contract is more expensive than buying at market rate”, the DfE said.
The email said the energy market “remains volatile and prices remain high”, having the potential to “impact on all sectors, including education”.
It follows pressure on the government to provide more guidance for schools on how to cope with rising costs.
School switch service closes next week
It also comes as the government prepares to close its school switch service.
Run by the Crown Commercial Service, the scheme allows schools and academies to obtain bespoke supply quotes. Despite the ongoing issues with rising costs, the service will close on March 31.
The DfE said its approved energy framework suppliers were still available to provide renewal quotes for schools. They also said schools could use their free “get help buying for schools” procurement team.
Labour warned in October that schools faced energy price hikes of up to £80 million a year due to the price surges.
Stuart Guest, headteacher of Colebourne Primary School in Birmingham, said his school’s bills had gone up by £56,000 for next year, taking the total bill to £121,000.
The school only took out a one year contract this month in the hope prices will eventually drop.
Last month, he called for DfE to “at least talk to schools” about the matter, as for some it could equate to the cost of several new teaching assistants or a teacher, or even force schools to make redundancies.
Schools are also facing a moral dilemma over energy contracts with Russian-firm Gazprom. Schools Week revealed how some academy trusts were seeking urgent legal advice on whether they can cut ties.