Schools face energy price hikes of up to £80 million in a year as gas and electric prices soar, Labour has warned.
The party’s analysis of school finances data published by the government found that state schools pay more than £660 million in energy costs every year.
Rising fuel prices are expected to see the average energy bill rise by 12 per cent in the coming months, which Labour warned could see schools’ outlay rise to almost £740 million.
The party said secondary schools were likely to be hit particularly badly due to their size, with the average institution facing a £10,000 hike.
The warning comes after Schools Week revealed how leaders in the north east had been told to expect a near-50 per cent hike in their gas bills.
Others were budgeting tens of thousands of pounds to meet rising costs. Since January, wholesale gas prices have risen 250 per cent across the world.
Shadow schools minister Peter Kyle said schools had “done a tremendous job in helping children throughout the pandemic”.
“Yet with little government support for catch-up, they’re operating on a shoestring, and just like families everywhere are working desperately to make ends meet.
“What they don’t need is a £10,000 bill whacked on their desks for gas and electric, forcing schools to choose between spending on teaching, and keeping the lights on.”
He said the government needed to “come forward with a clear plan for how schools should deal with this increase in costs”.
Schools face ‘unprecedented’ freeze despite budget cash
The analysis follows warnings about school finances after a spending review that leaders say could fail to protect schools from rising costs.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday that an extra £4.7 billion will be added to the core schools budget. But this also has to cover planned staff pay rises and increases in national insurance contributions.
The additional money will also only return funding to 2010 levels in real terms by 2024, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies this week described a decade and a half with no growth in spending despite economic growth as “unprecedented”.
Paul Whiteman, who leads the NAHT leaders’ union, said ministers “urgently need to look at how schools might be impacted this winter”.
“Covid guidance on classroom ventilation is still ‘open some windows’, but schools do need to be kept at a reasonable temperature for the children in them, which means heating use – and bills – could rapidly start to cripple already pressured school budgets.
“We are already hearing of schools seeing their gas bills being dramatically increased, even when they thought they were locked into a fixed tariff. The government needs to recognise this and ensure schools have the funding and resources they need to keep staff and students comfortable and safe.”
And Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, warned of a “huge extra cost pressure on school budgets which are already extremely tight”.
“We fully welcome the additional investment in schools. The trouble is that school budgets have been hammered over the past decade and this extra money could very quickly evaporate under the weight of extra cost pressures.”
The Department for Education was approached for comment.