College moves to 4-day week as energy support details stall

Further education leaders call for clarity on government energy support, as one college commits to four-day week

Further education leaders call for clarity on government energy support, as one college commits to four-day week

FE leaders have demanded clarity over the government’s promised six-month energy guarantee as one college announced plans to move to a four-day week to save on rising costs.

Liz Truss, the new prime minister, last week announced a six-month scheme for businesses, charities and public sector organisations – including FE colleges – that will offer “equivalent support as is being provided for consumers” to “protect them from soaring energy costs”.

The Department for Education said providers in all DfE sectors will be eligible, but no further details have been forthcoming.

Support is set to be handed out in October alongside measures for households but the Financial Times has reported concerns that businesses may have to wait until after the support for homes is given, which could push relief back to November.

Coupled with the energy guarantee only lasting for six months, college chiefs have called on the government to offer assurances to the industry.

David Hughes, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the temporary support to help with energy bills “is a sticking plaster only”.

Darren Hankey, the principal of Hartlepool College, said the intervention was welcome, but added: “Colleges have curriculum areas which are energy intensive such as engineering, construction, catering and hairdressing, and the news that this government intervention needs new legislation – and is unlikely to be clarified until November at the earliest – breeds uncertainty.”

It is understood a financial statement will be issued by the government next week, with an energy bill to follow.

Until then, Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said sector leaders were “in limbo” without enough information to plan finances.

Jane Hickie, the chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: “Many training providers are struggling with the impact of rising costs and must be allowed to operate on a level playing field.” She added that the government “won’t be able to boost economic growth without putting the skills sector on a sustainable footing”.

The government announcement came at the end of a summer of worry for many as the country waited for the leadership election to be resolved and pave the way for the new prime minister to decide what action to take on the cost-of-living crisis.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy said the six-month guarantee will “protect [businesses] from soaring energy costs and provide them with the certainty they need to plan their business”.

It said the government will provide “ongoing, focused support for vulnerable industries,” with a review in three months to consider where that targeted support will land.

It is not yet clear whether FE is considered a vulnerable industry.

The ongoing crisis has left colleges having to adopt extreme measures to ease the cost pressures. 

Yesterday, South Essex College confirmed it would apply a four-day week across its campuses in Basildon, Southend and Thurrock to save cash. 

The college, which was one of 189 to sign a letter from the Association of Colleges to Kwasi Kwarteng, the chancellor, last week calling for more support, has a current energy bill of about £1.2 million, with a quoted price increase of 300 per cent.

It said that even with the energy guarantee its bills are likely to double, with the increase above what it forecast in its budget-setting process earlier this year.

Failure to receive adequate support could result in significant in-year cost-saving measures, the college said.

A spokesperson said the four-day week will have “multiple benefits”, which included giving teachers dedicated time for marking students’ work and the opportunity for independent study time for learners.

“It’s important to remember college differs from school in that independent study time has always been incorporated into all timetables with supervised learning scheduled for three or four days a week,” the spokesperson said.

“It is true that cost pressures on utilities and other elements of running the college have meant we have looked at ways to make savings that do not impact on students or staff.”

It said that no study time would be lost, with no sessions timetabled for Fridays.

Colchester Institute said last week that it was trying to avoid moving to a four-day week but had not ruled it out. Other colleges said they were taking measures such as installing heat pumps and reducing the number of buildings in use for evening and weekend classes to curb energy use.

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