In January 2022, I received a very troubling email from a local Haringey school headteacher who told me that their energy costs would be increasing by £30,000 (this was a near 45% increase on their current bill) and that the school would receive no additional funding to cover these soaring costs.

Later, I raised this case during the Education Settings: Safe Learning Parliamentary debate. In response, the Minister of State for School Standards gave a very vague and unpromising response. After this debate, I wrote to all my local primary, secondary and sixth form schools to ask them about the impact of rising energy costs and other funding-related issues to find out just how bad the situation was becoming.

The responses were shocking and I believe the Government is walking into a education crisis.

One school told me that they are preparing for an energy price increase of 60-80% and will end the year in deficit. Another told me that their electricity rates will increase by 58% and gas rates by 237% and once again, will not receive a penny of the Government’s promised “£4 billion increase for schools in the next financial year”.

To pay these enormous costs, schools told me that they are planning cuts to student and teaching resources. The Government’s refusal to act on this crisis is going to affect students and their development. After two years of disrupted education due to the pandemic, how can the Government continue to abandon this sector and our children?

As well as energy cost increases, schools are also seeing additional price rises from suppliers such as caterers, and a lack of SEN funding. I am also very concerned about staff morale. Frequently patronised and villainised by Government ministers, underpaid and overstretched teachers were pushed to the brink during the pandemic. For their heroic efforts and amidst a cost-of-living crisis and record high inflation, the Government has awarded them with a pay freeze.

I used the feedback received from my schools to write to the Secretary of State for Education, as I believe that schools have been hung out to dry. You can read my letter below:

Dear Mr Zahawi,

I am writing to you because I am extremely concerned about the impact of rising energy costs on schools in my constituency.

In January 2022, I stood up in the Chamber during Education Questions and raised the issue of energy prices with the Minister for School Standards. I was assured by the Minister that there will be a £4 billion increase for schools in the next financial year. However my local primary and secondary schools and sixth-forms and colleges tell me a very different story.

Highgate Primary School told me that they will need to budget for a 60-80% increase on energy meaning that next year they will end in deficit. Hornsey School said their energy costs will be rising by approximately 58% and for Coleridge Primary School, this will be 59%. They all tell me that there is currently no availability for extra funding and that they are having to find new ways to cover these increased costs.

Sadly, one school told me that due to the increase in running costs, they would not be able to offer hard-working teachers the pay rise they deserve and that “the prospect of redundancy of staffing to meet costs is a continued and ever present concern for all school leaders”. Most of all, I am extremely worried about how soaring costs will affect students and their learning. These energy bill increases come on top of a rise in national insurance contributions and many schools have told me they’re also seeing a significant rise in SEND costs. After all the disruptions of the last two years, what students need right now is additional support in the classroom and a return to normality. As one school told me: “the anticipated future rises alongside inflation will make a sizeable dent in our available resources which ultimately will impact on our students and the resources which should be spent on teaching and learning and our focus on achieving the best outcomes for all APS students”.

It is worth adding that none of the schools mentioned the £4 billion increase, as promised by your Department. I am concerned that at present, schools are facing enormous financial pressures and a complete lack of guidance and tailored support from the Government. Undoubtedly, this will hurt students most of all.

I would be grateful if you could comment on the issues raised in this letter and if you would meet with me and local school leaders so that I can discuss the matter in greater detail.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine West MP”

The Government’s response to my letter was so belittling and brushed aside the seriousness of this crisis. I was told: “We know that the vast majority of school expenditure is devoted to staff costs. This means that even while energy costs are rising, inflation in this area would only have an impact on a small portion of a school’s budget overall.” According to the Government, “cost increases should be seen in the wider context of funding for schools”.  This is incredibly tone-deaf and shows the truth about the Government’s so-called levelling up plans.

I also requested a one-to-one meeting with a Minister to talk in greater detail. Once again, I was told that the Government’s uplift was more than enough to suffice. This is not true; I am very aware that this uplift is just a drop in the ocean and many schools have been told there is no new money.

During the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced its new Schools Bill and a promise to lift education standards across the country. However, I believe it will do no such thing.

The Schools Bill displays an alarming lack of aspiration and ambition. It does not address child poverty and Covid recovery, fails to resolve problems of funding, and ignores the teacher recruitment and retention crisis. It is indifferent to issues of mental health and wellbeing. While other countries are redesigning their curriculum and assessment to face the challenges of the future, the Schools Bill doubles down on the failures of the past: setting a new target for SATs performance will not raise the quality of education.

I will continue to urge the Government to listen to parents and teachers and respond to the urgent funding gaps in schools across the country, and especially in my constituency. Please do get in touch with my office if you would like to share your views on this important issue.

 

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