Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Schools must stay open five days a week despite energy bill struggles, says minister

Education leaders will manage within ‘existing budgets’, says schools minister Will Quince

Adam Forrest
Thursday 25 August 2022 09:51 BST
Education minister says schools must stay open five days a week despite energy bills rising

Schools in England must stay open five days a week this winter despite struggles with soaring energy costs, an education minister has said.

Some school leaders are reportedly considering three-day weeks to manage the sharp rise in gas and electricity bills.

But schools minister Will Quince insisted that classes should remain open, saying school leaders would be able manage within “existing budgets”.

Asked whether he acknowledged some schools might not be able to remain open five days a week, the minister told Sky News: “No, I don’t accept that – we expect schools to be open five days a week.”

Quince did not commit to any extra funding to make sure schools cope with the looming energy bill spike, but said he was keeping a “watchful eye” on the situation.

The education minister pointed to Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) study on current funding for schools. “They have said that schools should be able to manage within their existing budgets,” he said.

The minister added: “But I’m alive to the fact that energy costs are increasing at a significant rate … So, I keep a very watchful eye.”

Quince also told Times Radio that the “average school” would cope with extra costs when the energy price cap rises in October, but accepted that “not all schools are average”.

He acknowledged some schools were worried about energy bills because they were on short-term contracts, saying the Department for Education was “working with them at a local and regional level to better understand some of the challenges”.

Marc Jordan, chief executive of the Creative Education Trust that runs 17 schools across the Midlands and Norfolk, said last week that he had “heard mutterings of a three-day week to save on energy costs”. He said his trust was considering scrapping Covid catch-up programmes to deal with rising costs.

A Department for Education spokesperson said school weeks should be no less than 32.5 hours. “Thousands of schools already deliver this length of week within existing budgets and we expect current funding plans to account for this,” they said.

Quince also said the next prime minister – regardless of whether Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak emerges as the winner of the Tory leadership contest – will introduce an additional package of support to ease the cost of living crisis.

“There is no question in my mind, listening to the two leadership candidates … that the government is going to act and put in place a further package of support measures,” the Sunak supporter told LBC.

Quince added: “We will have to wait a couple of weeks … Both contenders have been clear, there will be a fiscal event, and more help will be coming.”

The education minister suggested that he also believed school closures were a mistake when asked on LBC if he agreed with Sunak’s criticism of lockdown policy.

“The government had to act on the information they had at the time,” said Quince. “So things like your closing schools with the information we now have, would we do it again? No, I don’t think we would.”

While Sunak has pledged to spend an extra £5bn on energy bill support for the most vulnerable through the benefits system, Truss is yet to commit to any additional direct payments – promising to cut green levies on bills and reverse the National Insurance rise.

Quince said the “blue-on-blue” attacks during the Tory leadership contest have been “totally unnecessary … Both candidates should just present their positive vision for our country”.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in