Schools struggle to meet energy bills

The crisis in energy bills is not just a impending disaster for households, but it will also affect all kinds of public and private organisations. Local councils, retailers and leisure centres all face huge rises in their energy costs and are not going to be “protected” by the cap in prices.

There has been a lot of talk about warm hubs (like these in Wales)- public places like libraries, museums and churches which could provide a warm, safe place for cold people.  But how will they afford to heat their own premises?

Schools too are affected.  The BBC reports on one academy trust that runs 11 schools. One of their schools has been quoted a staggering 414% price rise. If that was replicated across all their schools then the total energy bill would rise from just under £1 million to £4.6 million next year. This is on top of the 5% pay rise for staff.  Although the Government is increasing funding to schools it is clearly not going to be enough to meet these unprecedented financial challenges.

The CEO of the academy trust that is featured in the BBC article said:

Schools need to be places that are going to be warm and safe, especially as there are families whose homes won’t be warm.

The problem was echoed in a report in the Guardian. Sean Maher, the Head of one of the secondary schools near me, is quoted thus:

I’m really terrified about what’s going to happen to some of our parents. I’ve been a headteacher for nine years. I’ve dedicated my whole professional life to trying to give young people the very best opportunity to shine and grow and develop. I feel like I’m fighting against the government who are actively undermining what we are trying to do for young people.

How can it come to that in this country? Where we would be asking children to wear coats and gloves in the classroom because we can’t afford the heating? But it will happen. In schools up and down the country teachers will turn round and say: ‘Keep your coat on – we won’t put on the heating until the end of November’.

Now it was Labour who decided to take failing schools out of local authority control and hand them to the charitable sector as academies – and I have some sympathy where the local authorities were not doing a good job. But it was the Conservatives who had a vision for all schools, irrespective of the quality of the support they received, to become independent of local Councils, and to be taken out of democratic control and accountability. Initially academies were standalone institutions, but they quickly learned that they worked best when under an umbrella organisation – hence academy trusts, which are effectively privatised education authorities.

Today 40% of all primary pupils attend academies and 80% of all secondary pupils. If academies cannot afford energy bills then what happens? We may well have the unedifying spectacle of academy trusts becoming insolvent – and not just an isolated few, but a substantial number of them. Then what happens to the pupils and staff? Who takes over control?


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Helen Dudden 31st Aug '22 - 6:07pm

    The heating hubs are a foolish idea at best. If flu viruses get going. This will fan the spread.

    I can’t believe anyone would be that stupid, it feels like a bullying technique to frighten.

    Partygate, was in full swing when we couldn’t see family’s or friends, and we clapped for the NHS.

  • Mary is completely right to be concerned about what is going on, but (thank goodness) the system is very different in Scotland. There the vast majority of schools in the state sector are administered directly by the local Education Authority, which is synonymous with the 32 councils used for local government.

    Blair’s ‘bright’ idea of setting up Academies in England (developed further by Gove) has been very damaging. I’m glad that I retired as a Headteacher in England before it really took off. I recall my old friend John Marriott outlining on LDV some of the worst excesses and issues that had arisen with Academies in Lincolnshire.

  • Gwyn Williams 1st Sep '22 - 12:52pm

    The Welsh Warm Hubs initiative is being proposed by Welsh Liberal Democrat councillors Peter Black and Chris Holley of Cwmbwrla Ward, Swansea. There are very few Liberal Democrat Councillors in Wales outside Powys. Even so when they put forward a sensible, practical and popular proposal, they should be given credit for it.

  • Jenny Barnes 2nd Sep '22 - 3:44pm

    Our local secondary school has roofs covered in solar panels. It was a local community investment – people in the local area bought shares in the organisation which managed the installation. So the school gets cheap energy, the local community investors get a certain amount back from their investment (no, not £800/MWh or whatever it is now) and, I hope, the school can afford its energy bill.

  • Jenny Barnes 2nd Sep '22 - 3:49pm

    There’s been some noise about leisure centres energy bills too. Our local leisure centre was rebuilt 2010-12. I agitated with colleagues throughout the design process that the pool and other heating should be woodchip boilers, not gas. And succeeded, so it shouldn’t have too much of an energy bill problem.. I believe wood is up about 40%, but that’s a lot less than gas. It’s a real pity they built the roof tilting north, rather than south, could have had a load of solar panels on that. Can’t win them all 🙂

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