CLASSES could be axed and staff may lose their jobs due to the rising cost of energy bills, says the chief of a group of Oxfordshire schools.

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 due to rise by 525 per cent next month and her electricity bills by 354 per cent.

Despite core schools funding increasing by £1.5 billion in 2023/4, school leaders across the country have said the settlement does not take into account the "huge inflationary pressures" schools face.

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Mrs Warwick said the trust currently spends £250,000 on gas and electricity each year which will increase to £1.150 million each year.

The trust's reserves are currently healthy, she said, but warned these will be "wiped out" in the next year if the Government fails to provide further financial support.

"The extra funds are not going to touch the side of the issue for us," she said. "There needs to be urgent financial intervention from central Government.

"While we can use our reserves we will rush through those this year so we need decisions to be made now.

"The extra funding was decided before the energy peak and spiralling costs. It's no longer fit for purpose. Things have changed so quickly - it's no longer appropriate."

Mrs Warwick – a former president of the 20,000-strong Association of School and College Leaders – warned that if changes aren't made, schools could face redundancies, subjects removed, and school activities cancelled.

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"I'm not prepared to make staff redundant," she said.

"Especially not after the pandemic where we've noticed more mental issues among students. We need staff, councillors and pastoral care.

"There will be recruitment pauses, fewer staff in schools, fewer school trips and activities, a risk some subjects will be cut such as dance, drama and music  it'll be a terrible tragedy.

"The Ofsted reports are based on schools offering a broad curriculum which we simply won't be able to afford to do.

"When school budgets are already on a learn basis there's really nothing left to cut – the scale of the problem has been underestimated so far."

Mrs Warwick said schools would focus on reducing energy usage this winter but insisted there needed to be a long-term solution.

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"I don't think it's appropriate for children to come into school and be cold," she said. "They should 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 prepared to invest in those right now as our reserves are running down."

Paul James, CEO of River Learning Trust which operates 26 secondary and primary schools in Oxfordshire – including the Cherwell School in Summertown, Swan School in Marston, Oxford Academy in Littlemore and Gosford Hill School in Kidlington – said the Government "needs to act" to make sure schools are properly funded.

He said: "Like society at large, schools across the country are facing unprecedented financial pressures due to inflation, in particular, the rising cost of energy. The sector is lobbying the government hard to make sure that appropriate funding is made available to help us mitigate the challenges we are all facing.

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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 the Government will need to act in the coming year to ensure that schools are properly funded."


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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 emailing:

Follow her on Twitter @Geeharland

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