Schools are reportedly considering three or four-day weeks to manage sky-rocketing energy bills and teacher pay rises.
Headteachers are holding “crisis talks” with governors and trustees as they work out how to stretch budgets amidst the cost of living crisis, with shortening the week being raised as one potential solution according to The Telegraph.
Experts have warned that inflation could surpass 15% and energy bills could top £5,000 in the next year, adding more pressure on schools’ already-tight finances.
Teachers are also set to be awarded pay rises in September, with experienced teachers receiving their highest pay award in 30 years (5%), which is further squeezing budgets.
Mark Jordan, the chief executive of a multi-academy trust that runs 17 schools across the Midlands and Norfolk, confirmed that he had heard discussions of a “three-day week” to help with cuts.
He also told The Telegraph that the Creative Education Trust was considering a recruitment freeze and looking to scrap Covid catch-up programmes.
Dr Robin Bevan, headteacher at top grammar school Southend High School for Boys, added: “If a four-day week is not already being planned, it will certainly be being considered” by some schools.
“In the absence of long overdue above-inflation investment in school funding, it’ll become a realistic prospect sooner rather than later,” he added.
However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told NationalWorld that the organisation had not yet heard directly from any school leaders who are considering reducing weeks to three or four days.
Instead, the range of options which the association has heard discussed include:
- Non-replacement of staff and leadership posts, with responsibilities redistributed across remaining teams;
- putting capital projects which had been planned to develop and improve student facilities on hold;
- the likelihood of increased class sizes in the future.
Mr Barton also told NationalWorld: “Unfortunately, soaring energy costs, and staff pay awards for which there is no additional government funding, mean that school leaders are having to look at very significant cuts to their budgets in order to avoid deficits and balance their books.
“This is extremely challenging as budgets are already very tight following a decade of real-terms cuts in government funding.
“It is, in fact, very difficult to address the funding pressures in the short-term because many of the actions that schools can take require planning and time to take effect.”
‘Demoralising, depressing and desperate’
He explained that this will likely result in a situation in which reserves are drained, describing the situation as “utterly demoralising, depressing, and desperate”.
Mr Barton also criticised the governmental response, remarking: “The Government has simply buried its head in the sand and is insisting that these costs are affordable – but at individual school level that is clearly not the case.”
A Department fo Education told NationalWorld: “We recognise that schools – much like the wider economy – are facing increased costs, including on energy and staff pay.
“To support schools, budgets will rise by £7billion by 2024-25 - including £bn in the current financial year alone - compared with 2021-22.”
This reportedly represents a 7% cash terms per pupil increase.
The spokesperson said that school weeks should be no less than 32.5 hours, which is the current average, commenting: “Thousands of schools already deliver this length of week within existing budgets and we expect current funding plans to account for this.”
The Department added that a recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report noted that these budget increases will mean that forecast increased costs are broadly affordable for schools in 2022-23.
The spokesperson also said schools are provided with a range of school resource management tools which help them get the best value from their resources.
These tools currently include recommended deals for energy costs and ancillary services relating to energy.
Despite the budget increases however, a chief executive of a large academy trust told The Telegraph “shorter school days” and “draconian restrictions on energy usage” will “become a reality for all trusts”.