'Additional catch-up funding needed' as Havering schools hit by soaring utility bills

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Modelling for one Havering school suggested utility bills could wipe out additional funding recently made available through the schools funding forum. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Havering schools need additional catch-up money, with existing funds forecast to be eaten up by sky-rocketing utility bills. 

That’s according to Trevor Cook, assistant director of education services for the borough, who told councillors at the children and learning overview and scrutiny sub-committee on Thursday (January 20) that he was still waiting to be updated on the funding situation from the Department for Education (DfE). 

It comes amid the Recorder's There With You This Winter campaign, which was launched to support residents hit by the cost of living crisis.

City Hall in London has estimated it could push 75,000 more households in London into fuel poverty, with schools also set to be hit by the hike.

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Our There With You This Winter campaign is highlighting issues with fuel poverty - Credit: Archant

“We keep pushing DfE to provide us with an update on catch up funding,” he said. “At the moment all they’ve indicated is they're continuing the funding for staffing absences. 

“We are not hearing anything regarding continuation of any funding for catch up or recovery funding at all."

In December 2020, Havering had among the highest Covid-19 case rates in England

Track and trace meant schools would frequently send home large groups who had been identified as close contacts. 

Mr Cook told councillors some additional funds had been made available to schools alongside the national insurance increases. 

He said while this funding “does seem quite generous”, being higher than the expected rate rise, he said the service was forecasting that this would be wiped out by other costs. 

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“We modelled this with one school yesterday and it looks like their utility bills are going to double in the coming years so all this additional investment could go on heating and lighting,” he told councillors. 

While he emphasised the need for more resources to help pupils catch up, he noted disruption in Havering’s schools this year had not been “anywhere near” the levels seen last winter. 

The average absence rate was roughly three per cent for pupils and five per cent for staff. 

By contrast, Mr Cook informed the committee in December that during the 2020/21 winter, some schools had attendance rates “in the low twenties”. 

He told the committee on Thursday: “We’ve not seen anywhere near the disruption that we saw this time last year or in the December period." 

However, there continued to be localised outbreaks impacting specific schools where “figures are much higher”, he said, giving the example of a Havering primary school which “almost had one entire class wiped out”.