UK Government’s £500m investment in energy-efficient schools branded ‘a sticking plaster’
The UK Government has unveiled a £500m boost for projects to make schools and colleges in England more energy efficient this season, but climate charity Ashden argues that this falls far short of the amount needed to properly tackle the issue.
The Department for Education confirmed the new funding today (6 December) and also published an updated guidance document for those seeking to improve the energy efficiency of schools and colleges. The guidance resource includes a step-by-step guide to auditing energy use and drawing up a baseline, then planning for improvements by implementing fabric improvements, technologies and behaviour change.
The £500m funding will be provided in the form of grants. Activities eligible for financing include installing certain kinds of insulation, fitting or upgrading digital building energy control systems and switching to more energy-efficient LED lighting.
Primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and facilities for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities are all able to apply for funding. The Department for Education claims that the average primary school will be able to access around £16,000, increasing to £42,000 for secondary schools and £290,000 for college groups. The funding will be given in England only.
The funding is being provided in addition to the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme. This scheme, overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), is providing £1.4bn of funding over a three-year period. The latest round for the Scheme, awarded in August, allocated more than £630m.
“Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine is driving up energy prices worldwide, so it is important to look at the things we can do to make classrooms more energy efficient and resilient to price fluctuations,” said education secretary Gillian Keegan.
“We’re putting this cash in the hands of school and college leaders quickly, so they can decide what work is needed and so that our brilliant teachers can focus on teaching in a warm and safe environment.”
The National Education Union stated in September that unless the Government provided more funding to shield schools from rising energy costs, “ schools will have little option but to increase class sizes, cut subject choice and reduce additional support”. Analysis from Schools Week, published that same month, revealed that some UK schools had seen their energy bills increasing almost sixfold year-on-year.
With this in mind, climate charity Ashden, which runs the ‘Let’s Go Zero’ campaign for schools in partnership with Global Action Plan, is disappointed with the Department for Education’s offer. It has argued that the funding pot is too small and the allocation period too short-term to deliver a meaningful response to the problem.
“While we welcome the government’s recognition that schools and colleges are facing a tough winter and need help managing their skyrocketing energy bills, we must be clear that this is merely a sticking plaster when a long-term solution is desperately needed,” said Let’s Go Zero’s programme manager Alex Green.
“If this money is used wisely, it can help schools lower their bills, and make their buildings more energy efficient. But to really solve the problem of money and carbon emissions leaking from schools and colleges every day, we need the government to commit to adapting and retrofitting every school in the UK.”
“This will futureproof schools and colleges once and for all, as well as delivering much needed green skills jobs in every corner of the country. Without a comprehensive fix, we will be doomed to repeat these piecemeal measures every winter.”
More than 1,800 schools, colleges and nurseries have joined Let’s Go Zero to show their intent to be zero carbon by 2030. Improving energy efficiency and switching to cleaner energy sources are key steps many of these facilities will need to take to achieve this.
Last month, at the Autumn Statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a new target for the UK’s buildings and industry to reduce their energy consumption by 15% by 2030, against current levels. He confirmed £6bn of funding, to be allocated after 2025, to help deliver this goal. Some groups had been hoping for more funding in the near-term, with the social implications of the energy price crisis this winter in mind, and the need for swift action to align the built environment with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) itself has this week stated that the measures outlined by Hunt are not entirely aligned with its pathways to achieving net-zero. CCC chief executive Chris Stark wrote on Twitter that the body had recommended a 20% energy demand reduction between 2021 and 2030.
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