Government outlines Energy Bill Relief scheme
This week, the government published more details on the Energy Bill Relief scheme and how it will work for schools. Under the scheme, the government will reduce energy rates to £211 per MWh for electricity and £75 per MWh for gas, less than half the wholesale prices anticipated this winter. With these new government-supported prices, schools that are currently paying monthly energy bills of £10,000 can expect to receive a discount of £4,000, reducing their bills by 40%. It will apply to fixed contracts agreed on or after 1 April 2022, as well as to deemed, variable and flexible tariffs and contracts.
Similar to households, schools will not have to take any action to apply for relief, instead discounts will be automatically applied to bills. The scheme will apply to energy usage between 1 October 2022 and 31 March 2023.
In three months’ time, the government will publish a review on the Energy Bill Relief scheme, assessing how effectively the relief has supported non-domestic users, and whether support can be extended or targeted to help the most vulnerable.
Whilst school leaders are pleased to learn more about the Energy Bill Relief scheme, many have criticised the six-month limit, which ‘creates its own set of difficulties.’ As Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), explains, ‘schools and trusts need budget security over the whole financial year […] the late announcements on the Teachers’ Pay Award and Support Staff Pay offer has already impacted on fiscal planning for schools and trusts.’ Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), agrees ‘this uncertainty makes it impossible for schools and colleges to plan financially with any degree of confidence because they could be knocked off course at a later date.’
Teachers’ unions launch legal challenge against the government
This summer, school leaders and teachers’ unions warned they would campaign for industrial action over pay. Weeks later, ministers made a change to the law that would allow agency workers to cover for striking teachers. The government claims this reform is necessary to ‘ensure public services and people’s daily lives remain uninterrupted.’ However, trade unions have come together to challenge the government in court, arguing that ‘the right to strike is a fundamental British liberty.’
In a coalition led by Trades Union Congress (TUC), the National Education Union (NEU) has joined GMB, Unite and several others to take legal action against the government. They argue that the government broke the Employment Agencies Act 1973 by failing to consult unions, whilst also violating the fundamental trade union rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
Separately, NASUWT and Unison have each launched their own legal challenges against the government, arguing that ‘ministers’ changes are unlawful and should be axed.’ Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of NASUWT, states that ‘the government is seeking to prevent workers taking collective action to defend their jobs, pay and working conditions in direct contravention of its international commitments and obligations.’ Unison general secretary Christina McAnea agrees, adding that ‘ministers should be rolling up their sleeves and helping solve disputes.’
Unions now wait to receive permission from the High Court to proceed with their challenges. Meanwhile, unions are consulting members on whether to accept their pay offers, whilst others prepare to ballot members on strike action.
Improving access to Public Legal Education
Experts agree that Public Legal Education (PLE) is essential for young people, equipping them with ‘awareness, knowledge and understanding of rights and legal issues, together with the confidence and skills they need to deal with disputes and gain access to justice.’ However, recent research carried out by the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) in partnership with law firm Mishcon de Reya finds that young people’s access to PLE is ‘patchy and often limited.’
When investigating the barriers to PLE, researchers found that teachers generally felt ill-equipped to deliver PLE lessons due to a lack of resources, or awareness of available resources. Additionally, researchers discovered that ‘teachers sometimes feel wary about teaching PLE out of fear of being labelled “too political” or “troublesome”.’
To overcome these challenges, researchers recommend that schools partner with leading organisations to develop ‘new collaborative approaches to the best possible teaching of PLE.’ This will ensure teachers have access to high-quality resources and training, giving them the confidence to lead PLE sessions.
They also recommend ‘innovative pilot programmes that expand opportunities for young people,’ ensuring that learners have positive encounters with the law at an early age. This will improve pupils’ understanding of their rights and responsibilities as citizens, preventing crime and supporting greater access to justice.
As we reflect on the headlines this week, we are reminded of our commitment to prepare children for life in modern Britain, aware of their roles in society and ability to bring about change.
By giving children the opportunity to participate in open debate, conflict resolution and community action, schools are uniquely placed to promote active citizenship, enhancing democratic life for us all.