South Gloucestershire schools can’t afford to turn classroom heating on

Photo of a heating thermostat set to zero.

Children are having to wear coats during lessons because schools in South Gloucestershire are so cash-strapped they cannot afford to turn the heating up.

Headteachers say the financial situation has hit crisis point because the district is the worst-funded of all 151 education authorities in the country.

School leaders have teamed up with the council to launch a campaign demanding more money from Whitehall to give youngsters the best start in life – and they have revealed some of the desperate measures staff are forced to take to try to balance the books.

The drastic cuts are being made in both council-maintained and academy schools across South Gloucestershire. They include recruiting apprentices instead of fully qualified teaching assistants because they are cheaper, axing school trips and clubs, breaching class size limits and sharing staff across groups or schools, which can disrupt pupils’ learning and destroy staff morale.

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But most shocking of all is the fact that many schools have no choice but to delay turning on the heating during winter and set it to lower temperatures, leaving children shivering and staff being advised to wear extra layers in the classroom.

South Gloucestershire Council co-leader and Cabinet member with responsibility for schools, Cllr Ian Boulton, said:

“Our children are missing out on opportunities and potentially achieving their best, as headteachers are forced to make cuts to balance the books because the government is not properly funding our schools.”

“If South Gloucestershire was funded at the average for similar council areas, we would get an extra £12.3million a year, and if we were funded at the England average that would be an extra £16.9million.”

“We are not asking for a share of some other areas’ schools funding, we are asking for our kids and our schools in South Gloucestershire to be given the money to do the job. It’s no more than our children deserve.”

“Our headteachers and school staff work incredibly hard and achieve incredible things, but they are being forced to do it with one hand tied behind their backs.”


Headteacher and South Gloucestershire Schools Forum chair Pippa Osborne said:

“Schools across South Gloucestershire are having to cut back on things that teachers, and most parents, would think could be taken for granted if our schools were properly funded.”

“Schools are doing incredibly well to appear on the surface to be okay, but too many of my colleagues tell me that they are hanging on by a thread.”

“The things we are having to do to balance budgets will shock and certainly disappoint some parents, but they are all too familiar in our schools.”

“In simple terms, the funding pressures we are all experiencing means we can’t focus on providing the best possible education for our pupils or provide good working conditions for staff because we are constantly worried about money.”

“We are doing the best we can, but we know it’s not the best that’s possible because there just isn’t the funding from government.”

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Forum vice chair and multi-academy chief executive Dave Baker said:

“The picture across South Gloucestershire is the same, whether schools are funded via the council or directly from government as academies are.”

“There simply isn’t enough money for us to do our jobs properly.”

“Teachers want to teach and just as much as our pupils’ families do, they want to see our children thrive.”

“Children want to learn and have a strong springboard for the lives ahead of them. But we are all being held back.”


Cllr Boulton added:

“We quite rightly talk about different groups suffering or being at a disadvantage, and the need to take steps to help them.”

“Right now, all children in school in South Gloucestershire are at a disadvantage because this government refuses to fund what education costs.”

“We are seeing a significant increase in schools at financial risk because despite everything they are doing to balance the books, they are still struggling to keep their heads above water.”

“This is not a question of the competence of school leaders – they are doing the very best that they can and we are supporting them in that – but they are being asked to do the impossible.”

“It is children and teaching staff in South Gloucestershire who are being made to pay, when it should be the government paying what it costs to provide for their future.”

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The district’s schools are the poorest in England in terms of mainstream funding from the government.

Council-maintained schools receive their money from government via the council while academies get theirs directly from the Department for Education (DfE).

But in South Gloucestershire this funding is the lowest per pupil in the country.

For 2023/24, there were 37,748 school pupils in South Gloucestershire. The total Schools Block Funding per pupil was just £5,233.

A South Gloucestershire Council spokesperson said:

“Headteachers and school staff work incredibly hard to deliver the best possible outcomes for  our children, but they are increasingly having to cut costs and sacrifice much of the extra support that young people need in order to balance their budgets.”

“They are now describing a shocking range of measures they are being forced to take to maintain minimum standards.”

“They include having to recruit apprentices as they are cheaper than fully qualified teaching assistants; cutting school trips and clubs; sharing teaching staff across groups or schools, which is disruptive for pupils’ learning and for staff morale; reducing the time and temperature schools’ heating is turned on, so that teachers and children are left cold in the classroom while they try to learn and teach; breaching class size targets to bring in extra money, but that dilutes the time teachers can spend with individual pupils; and huge pressures on teaching assistants, who provide extra help to children with additional needs, but who can often earn more money outside the profession, including working as delivery drivers.”


The spokesperson said clubs and activities such as singing, art and sport were being cut, while some schools had stopped having lunch supervisors and used the teaching assistants who remained for those duties.

They said staff were having to be redeployed across academy and school groups which created instability for youngsters.

The spokesperson said wellbeing and coaching for headteachers was being axed, and an increasing number of them were considering leaving their roles.

Cuts were also being made to external behaviour and inclusion support for children who need it.

They added that school budgets were increasingly being set with zero pounds in reserve, so the first penny in costs that was not anticipated put them into the red.

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A Department for Education spokesperson said:

“School funding is rising by over £3.9billion this year compared to 2022/23.”

“Nationally, school funding will reach the highest level in history, in real terms per pupil, by 2024/25.”

“This includes an extra £4million for mainstream schools in South Gloucestershire for 2024/25, an increase of two percent per pupil compared to 2023/24, and an increase of 13.5 percent per pupil compared to 2021/22”

“This takes the total funding to £206.5million.”

Article by Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

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