The cost of living crisis has had a significant impact on schools’ building and estate management over the past year. Cuts to public spending and a rise in the cost of essential services mean many schools are struggling to keep their buildings in a safe and secure condition – potentially impacting young people’s education. So, what can governors do to support schools and ensure pupils enjoy an optimal learning environment? 

To help governors think strategically and ask the right questions during board meetings, we’ve put together a few cost-saving tips below. 

  1. Energy Costs: One of the simplest ways schools can reduce budgetary pressures is to review current arrangements with energy suppliers. This review could involve gaining quotes from other suppliers to compare prices and spot opportunities for saving. Another key way to help is to ensure all relevant staff members understand the school’s energy consumption habits and help make reductions where possible. As Nikki Webb, Senior Energy and Carbon Consultant at energy education charity Energy Sparks, notes in our campaign podcast, schools often rack up energy bills through activities which could quite easily be reduced or even stopped. For example, a large number of electrical items in schools are left on standby for long periods. Switching off computers and other technologies overnight is a small but effective way for schools to make a big difference to their energy bills.
  2. Building upgrades: Governors should question whether the school building requires upgrades to save energy and improve functionality. Potential additions or replacements could include smart meters, energy-efficient lighting, insulation, or computing equipment and machinery. While the initial cost may be relatively high, such measures will help to reduce energy bills in the long term and help the school to become more sustainable. It’s worth noting that upgrades may present some difficulties for schools in listed buildings, many of which have additional conservation requirements that limit the scope of refurbishment. According to Historic England, there are over 5,000 listed school buildings in England, leaders and governors of which must make extra considerations surrounding conservation when considering refurbishment options. Historic England guidelines emphasise the need for flexibility. Planning reversible changes or making design choices that don’t require additional technologies, such as insulated windows, can help reduce complexity and costs in the refurbishment process. 
  3. Training staff and conducting building audits: To help reduce unplanned costs, it’s important that relevant staff are appropriately trained in building and estate management. This could include producing up-to-date audits to ensure assets are safe, the school is well-maintained with appropriate tools, and problems are dealt with quickly and effectively to minimise cost.  

Discover more with ‘Counting the Cost’  

The cost of living crisis is placing unprecedented pressure on school buildings and leaders. However, with the right support from governors, schools can handle the difficult financial climate by taking steps to reduce costs, invest in energy efficiency, allow time for critical planning, and ensure staff are appropriately trained. For more support on what to ask during your board meetings through the cost of living crisis, please read our ‘Questions for Governors’ guide.  You can also check out our Counting the Cost campaign page on our website for more resources, our weekly podcasts campaign articles and video content.  

This article – along with our other Counting the Cost resources – was made possible through the generous sponsorship of Allen & Overy