CLASSES could be axed and staff could lose their jobs due to the rising cost of energy bills, the leader of a group of schools in Oxfordshire has said.
Rachael Warwick, CEO of Ridgeway Education Trust, which oversees Didcot Girls’ School, St Birinus School and Didcot Sixth Form – all in Didcot, and Sutton Courtenay Primary School, near Abingdon, said her gas bills were set to rise by 525 percent next month and his electricity bills by 354%.
Although core funding for schools has been increased by £1.5billion in 2023/4, head teachers across the country have said the settlement fails to take account of the “enormous inflationary pressures” facing schools are confronted.
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Ms Warwick said the trust currently spends £250,000 on gas and electricity each year, which will rise to £1.150m each year.
The trust’s reserves are currently healthy, she said, but warned they will be “wiped out” next year if the government fails to provide further financial support.
“The extra funds aren’t going to touch the side of the issue for us,” she said. “There must be urgent financial intervention from the central government.
“While we can use our reserves, we will be rushing into them this year, so we have to make decisions now.
“The additional funding was decided before the energy peak and the cost spike. It is no longer suitable for its purpose. Things have changed so quickly – it’s no longer appropriate.”
Ms Warwick – former president of the 20,000-strong Association of School and College Leaders – warned that if changes are not made, schools could face layoffs, subjects cut and school activities cancelled.
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“I’m not ready to lay off staff,” she said.
“Especially not after the pandemic where we noticed more mental issues among students. We need staff, counselors and pastoral care.
“There will be recruitment breaks, less staff in schools, less school trips and activities, a risk of certain subjects being cut like dance, drama and music it will be a terrible tragedy.
“The Ofsted reports are based on schools offering a broad curriculum that we simply won’t be able to afford.
“When school budgets are already learning-based, there really is nothing left to cut – the scale of the problem has been underestimated until now.”
Ms Warwick said schools would focus on reducing energy use this winter, but insisted a long-term solution was needed.
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“I don’t think it’s appropriate for kids to come to school and be cold,” she said. “They must be able to learn in a warm and appropriate environment.
“We need to invest in long-term sustainable solutions such as LED lights and solar panels, but I’m not ready to invest in these at the moment as our supplies are running out.”
Paul James, CEO of River Learning Trust, which runs 26 secondary and primary schools in Oxfordshire – including Cherwell School in Summertown, Swan School in Marston, Oxford Academy in Littlemore and Gosford Hill School in Kidlington – said that the government “must act” to ensure schools are properly funded.
He said: “Like society as a whole, schools across the country are facing unprecedented financial pressures due to inflation, particularly the rising cost of energy. The sector is lobbying the government to ensure that the appropriate funding is made available to help us. alleviate the challenges we all face.
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“Alongside our commitment to excellence in education, we continue to support our schools with financial and operational expertise, but there is no doubt that the government will need to act in the coming year to ensure that schools are properly funded.”
This story was written by Gee Harland. She joined the team in 2022 as a senior multimedia reporter.
Gee covers Wallingford, Wantage and Didcot.
Get in touch with her by sending an e-mail to: [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter @Geeharland
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