SCHOOLS in Oxfordshire have been told to go green or face paying nearly half a million pounds of the county council’s energy tax bill.

Already faced with budget cuts from the new Government formulas, schools are now under pressure to cut back on power under threat of heavy financial penalty.

For some it may mean turning down classroom heating, turning the lights off or making less use of computers in a bid to save cash and reduce their “carbon footprint”.

The tax has been imposed on Oxfordshire County Council by the Government as part of a national energy efficiency scheme.

In turn the authority decided to pass on the bill to schools, arguing they were responsible for 60 per cent of the council’s energy consumption.

With the rising cost of energy, the county-wide schools bill is expected to skyrocket, hitting £711,000 by 2014/15.

The cost of the energy tax will vary according to the size of the school, but would amount to thousands of pounds a year.

Concerns have been raised that poorer schools and those in older buildings will particularly struggle with the cost of reducing their carbon.

At the same time, the 26 academies in Oxfordshire may escape the tax unless the council can convince governors to contribute willingly.

Rose Hill Primary School manager Charmaine Swift said the school had to find a way to cut down on energy use on a shrinking budget.

Last week it emerged the school would lose £23,000 in funding due to new government funding arrangements.

Now, should it fail to comply with the new regulations, its energy bill will rise by £4,000 in just two years.

She said: “The problem is with the budget cuts. Our school is very old and therefore we are not very energy efficient. Some of the windows are made of clear plastic, it’s just a single layer.

“Our roof needs a complete refurbishment, but we only have a certain amount of money we can spend, so we are stuck in the position where we are almost throwing good money after bad.

“Our boiler is so old the parts are often not available anymore and it can’t be turned off. It could be the case where some parts of the school are too warm and the heat is being wasted through open windows, but we can’t do anything about it.”

Other schools, such as Windmill Primary in Oxford, have also tried to make pupils aware their actions could cost the school money.

Headteacher Lynn Knapp said the balance had to be weighed up between the environment and keeping pupils warm, and making sure they were able to see.

Measures such as reducing the amount of printers in the new school building will be brought in to cut back on power consumption.

A report on the tax is going before the county council’s growth and infrastructure scrutiny committee on Monday.

Cabinet member for education Melinda Tilley said: “It is going to be problematic for older schools who will have problems being more efficient.”

She said she would speak to officers about a further briefing.

In other parts of the country areas such as the borough of Hounslow, in London, and Wiltshire are also looking at schools to foot the bill.

What is a carbon footprint?

‘Carbon’ refers to all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, while ‘footprint’ is the metaphor used to describe the total impact.

Therefore a ‘carbon footprint’ is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organisation, product, a person, or an event.

The phrase evolved from ‘ecological footprint’, coined in 1992 by Canadian biologist Bill Reese, which referred to the amount of land needed to support a given human population.

Since the 1990s there has been growing requirement for organisations and individuals to reduce their carbon footprints in a bid to avoid environmental damage to the planet.