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Pressure is growing on the government to produce a “proper plan” to address spiralling energy bills for schools.
As the cost of living crisis hits households across the country, with average annual energy bills potentially surpassing £3,000 from October, schools — which are not covered by Ofgem’s price cap — are also facing rising bills.
And Labour warned on Sunday that schools in England could end up paying an extra £1bn a year in energy bills — taking resources away from pupils’ learning.
The party cited government data which show the cost of energy to state schools after a projected increase of 93% at the end of 2021.
On average, secondary schools are now estimated to be spending more than £161,000 on energy while primaries are spending around £32,000, according to data compiled by the House of Commons Library.
All the while, schools are facing other budget pressures, with a 40-year high inflation rate driving up the cost of food and school stationery.
Watch: ‘No easy options’ in battle against inflation - Zahawi
Shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan said education secretary Nadhim Zahawi needs to form a “proper plan” to address school energy bills, and “ensure rising costs do not lead to children missing out on further opportunities”.
Morgan said: “Children have already faced huge disruption due to the government’s chaotic handling of the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis, made worse by Downing Street, is further squeezing school budgets.”
Zahawi said on Friday he is “looking very closely” at schools’ costs including energy bills, which he said typically form 1.5% of a budget. He said he would “look at everything” when considering options to help schools.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, is among those who have called for “decisive action” from Zahawi.
“Increased energy costs mean that money which should be spent on pupils will end up being paid to energy companies instead. This can only have a negative impact upon our children’s education," he said this week.
It also comes in a week when the boss of one of the UK’s biggest food wholesalers said schools may have to reduce portion sizes for children’s meals due to ratcheting costs.
Andrew Selley, chief executive of Bidfood, said caterers are either “going to serve smaller portions or use cheaper ingredients, which is not going to be good for children”.