Energy prices: UK schools brace for shock

A “tremendous” rise: Rachel Warwick, who runs a group of three schools in the south of England, can’t find another word. In normal times, its budget for gas and electricity reaches 250,000 pounds (289,000 euros) a year. But rising energy prices for a year have increased the bill to £1.1m (€1.27m).

“We are looking for an extra 900,000 pounds, which is not in the budget, which is a big pressure,” he worried to AFP.

The UK is already suffering from double-digit inflation, the highest level among the G7 countries, and the situation is set to worsen in the face of expected energy price rises.

Households are protected by a price ceiling imposed by the public authorities, though due to increase by 80% in October, companies and public institutions have none.

From bars to hospitals, there is a crisis in all sectors.

After two back-to-school terms due to the Covid-19 pandemic, school leaders must now manage this new crisis, with budgets set before war in Ukraine and rising energy prices.

“From what I hear from other schools, prices are going to double or triple,” worries Paul Gosling, head of a primary school in Exmouth (in the south of England) and head of the headteachers’ association. NAHT Institutions.

The government announced this summer a 5% increase in the salaries of their staff, with no additional contribution from the state, especially since schools must also be funded.

“Books are expensive, food is expensive, everything is expensive,” insists Steve Salke, founder of the 52-company Oasis School Group.

As a result, principals everywhere are looking for ways to save money. “These are tough choices,” he laments, about increasing class sizes, canceling school trips or turning down the heat a degree or two.

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“Some people suggest going 4-days a week. Close the school one day. But we can’t do that (…) Otherwise, how are parents going to go to work?”

An extra sweater

Rachael Warwick plans to reduce energy consumption in her schools by “20 to 30%”, with “transparent” measures. “We’re going to turn down the heat, we’re going to turn off the lights. We’re going to ask students and staff to dress more kindly. But it’s not worth the savings we have to make,” he points out.

So everyone is appealing to the future Prime Minister who will be appointed on Monday. “All public services need a price ceiling,” says Paul Gosling, just like individuals.

Like other directors, he points to austerity in education funding over the years.

“If the government doesn’t do anything, schools will try to balance their budgets by cutting costs,” particularly by cutting staff such as teaching assistants. “But this is not a good thing because it penalizes the education that children get,” he said.

At the Ministry of Education, we say, “We are aware of the inflationary pressures facing schools”.

The government has “increased its funding by £4 billion this year” and made recommendations to schools on energy supply incentives, he said in a statement to AFP.

In the campaign to appoint the future prime minister, the two finalists, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, promised to help schools with these additional costs.

“We are in this situation because we have decided to support the Ukrainians. By doing this, of course there is a price to pay, but there is no reason for the children to pay it”, relaxed Steve Sack.

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