Speed read: DfE energy-saving tips and £500m funding rules

Schools told to do energy 'spot checks', and should spend new efficiency upgrade cash this financial year

Schools told to do energy 'spot checks', and should spend new efficiency upgrade cash this financial year

6 Dec 2022, 11:38

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The government is urging schools to carry out energy “spot checks” for left-on lights and turn the heating off an hour before the building empties.

New guidance on energy efficiency, published today, tells schools that installing wind turbines can help generate their own electricity. The advice also recommends minimum temperatures however, which the government previously scrapped as statutory regulations.

There are more details too about a £500 million capital funding pot for energy-saving projects in schools and colleges.

But new analysis by software firm Access and Schools Week suggests many schools used less energy recently than the average non-domestic building when display energy certificate data was last collected.

The average secondary in the 50 largest areas of England and Wales already has the second-highest energy efficiency rating on a seven-point scale, the figures suggest, though lower usage during Covid lockdowns may affect the figures.

Here is what you need to know from the guidance:

1. Spend new cash this year (and it can be used for repairs)

The DfE confirmed today schools will split £442 million and further education colleges £53 million.

It said the average primary will receive around £16,000 and secondaries £42,000, but actual funding will be based on a formula that includes a flat £10,000 rate and an additional sum based on weighted pupil numbers.

The government wants schools to “prioritise” projects that make estates more efficient – but adds: “Where you judge this is not appropriate based on local circumstances, you have discretion to spend this on other capital projects.”

Anyone in doubt about what constitutes capital expenditure should “get local professional advice”.

Government also said “we expect” schools to spend it “in the financial year 2022 to 2023”. This would leave maintained schools with only four months – and limited holiday periods, where many schools tend to carry out works – to plan and implement capital projects.

It could also mean the same for academies, unless the DfE was referring to their different financial year to 31 August. Asked by Schools Week, the DfE confirmed cash could be carried into 2023-24 if needed, however.

2. Leaders should do an ‘energy audit’

With school concerns mounting ahead of the expected wind-down of the government’s energy bill relief scheme in April, the DfE has issued new guidance on cutting costs. It says a top action should be an “energy audit” and understanding usage, to best prioritise where to cut consumption.

This could include senior leaders, premises managers or external experts “walking around the site” to consider how to reduce consumption.

Schools should review heating system’s annual maintenance contracts, ensure and evaluate regular meter readings, and understand energy bill data to budget and compare tariffs more accurately.

3. Turn heating off an hour before close

Schools “could turn the heating off at 5pm” if the building empties an hour later, “as there will be latent heat within the building and the system itself”. The guidance reads: “You can often switch off the heating slightly earlier than the last usage.”

Leaders can also “consider reducing temperatures in some areas”, with a 1ºC cut wiping up to a tenth off bills.

The DfE says schools could encourage behavioural change by premises managers, senior leaders or a school “eco club” carrying out “spot checks” – such as whether lights and equipment are off in empty rooms.

They could consider “prompts” like posters to remind staff and learners to switch equipment off, and discuss efficiency in staff meetings, assemblies and lessons. Staff should switch off devices like laptops when not in use.

Cleaners play a “key role” turning off items at the end of the day, with site staff who control heating and hot water settings and catering teams in high-usage kitchens also “key members in your community” affecting usage. Heating controls should match building needs such as class timetables, and CO2 monitors can “help balance” ventilation and warmth.

Schools should “maximise” daylight to reduce need for lighting, drawing blinds up and regularly cleaning windows. Printing should be “only when necessary”, and running water turned off “when it is not needed”.

4. Cool Britannia – but not too cool

The DfE has issued new recommended minimum temperatures however, despite the energy reduction drive. Temperatures are set to plummet this week.

An internal set point of 20°C is recommended, with minimum temperatures of 15°C in washrooms, circulation areas and any teacher accommodation, 18°C for classrooms and offices, and 21°C for spaces where occupants are inactive or sick.

The recommendations are very similar to the previous statutory temperature requirements introduced by New Labour in 1999, which appear to have been scrapped by the government a decade ago as “unnecessary”.

5. Turbines, laptops and cloud systems

Schools could consider getting “expert guidance” on renewables, such as solar panels, solar thermal panels, and wind turbines. But they should “consider if the ongoing maintenance is affordable” for turbines.

Thermostatic radiator valves should be installed, pipes insulated where possible, and swimming pools covered to retain heat.

Meanwhile energy efficiency should be factored into equipment purchasing. For instance, laptops are up to 80 per cent more efficient than desktop computers.

Schools should also “migrated to cloud-based alternatives” to replace energy-intensive management information systems or file storage.

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  1. Gregory Coleman

    The DfE guidance actually says: “We expect you to spend the funding in the financial year 2022 to 2023. However, normal terms of devolved formula capital apply.” Therefore although they desire schools to spend in by 31/03/2023, it can be rolled into future years in the same way as any other devolved capital. Given the huge number of schools that will be procuring energy efficiency projects, suppliers will be rather busy to say the least and the likelihood for many projects is that they will need a holiday period of some length to be implemented safely. The pressure on suppliers to deliver at Easter or Summer will then further restrict the implementation of the projects in non-term periods.