UK schools are grasping at straws to find ways to tackle out-of-control bills, including considering moving lessons online for one day every week. Other alternatives being looked at include children wearing their coats in class, and leaving certain staff positions empty to save money. The suggestions were floated during a briefing to headteachers in Powys, Wales, and emerged following questioning by Powys Cllr Beverly Baynham to the cabinet member responsible for education. The discussion was emblematic of the issues facing schools across the country as eye-watering stats reveal the immense pressures facing education this winter.
In the Powys meeting, Cllr Baynham said: “In the current economic crisis school budgets are being put under increasing pressure. At a recent briefing for headteacher’s and chairs of governors suggestions were put forward from officers of how to achieve financial savings.
“These suggestions included, children wearing coats, not filling vacant positions, finding volunteers to work in schools, consider a four-day week with the fifth day being taught virtually at home.”
He asked Cllr Peter Roberts to confirm if children being taught online one day a week was a serious suggestion, to which Cllr Roberts said there are “significant budget pressures on all of us”, emphasising that they needed to be “considering every option regarding potential savings”.
He added: “We did suggest the possibility of four-day week with a fifth day being taught virtually as well as blended weeks of learning as extreme cases for consideration.”
However, Cllr Roberts made clear that schools were not under any specific “clear directive” to take on these measures, adding that a “financial toolkit” was being prepared to help schools discuss the responses that would work best for them. These questions are being faced by schools across the country.
A survey of 630 headteachers and business leaders by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found that 17 schools were considering a four-day week – while nearly all the schools, 98 percent, said they would need to find a way to make some financial savings over the next few years to stay afloat.
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NAHT’s president Dr Paul Gosling, who is also the head teacher of Exeter Road Community Primary School in Exmouth, added: “At the moment, my school, for example, my energy bill every year is usually around £20,000 – I’m now told it’s going to be double that – £40,000 maybe £50,000 plus”.
He added there are “no obvious solutions” and that education “just needs more money,” which is why “you get people coming up with ideas like a 4 day week, which is just a suggestion – these are desperate ideas at a time of crisis.”
Rising energy bills are not the only challenge facing schools – ASCL’s survey revealed that increasing catering costs and a nationally-agreed pay award for staff that has not been funded by the government are also crunching school budgets.