A university is closer than ever

Anyone who knows me will tell you how committed I am to seeing a fully fledged-university in Peterborough.

It’s the single biggest thing we can do to stop our talented young people from leaving to build their lives elsewhere and ensures that our businesses have a good crop of people with the skills and talent they need to apply for jobs.

We’re closer than ever to there being a dedicated Peterborough University. University Centre Peterborough (UCP) is continuing to work towards gaining degree awarding powers and research is ongoing into the type of courses which will meet the needs of students and businesses. An appraisal is also underway of the Bishop’s Road site where the development of a new campus for up to 2,000 students is proposed.

pboro uni

Developing an independent university is an exciting but complex process and although I would like it to happen tomorrow, it takes time to achieve.

In the meantime, the number of people studying degrees in the city is increasing year on year, with double the number of young people from our schools starting a degree with UCP in 2018 compared to the year before. That’s fantastic news and proof that more of our young people are improving their career options.

I was also impressed to hear that more than 250 students graduated last year with good numbers achieving the higher grades. Eighty-eight per cent of integrated engineering students and 57 per cent of sociology students achieved a first class honours, which is fantastic.

The undergraduate provision at UCP has also continued to grow with the launch of new degrees in digital arts, digital marketing, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and manufacturing engineering and five new business management degrees.

Having a fully-fledged university will result in significant economic benefits for the whole city, and at the rate we’re progressing, it may not be that far into the future that we achieve it.

Click here for more information about the degree courses available in Peterborough.

So much achieved over past year

Let me start off by wishing you all a happy new year.

Early January is a great time for reflection and setting new goals or resolutions for the year ahead.

With that in mind, I thought I’d use this column to look back over the past 12 months.

The past year really has flown by, and I think that’s a sure sign that we’ve got on with business and achieved many of our goals.

One of my proudest moments of 2018 was seeing the opening of the council’s new office building at Fletton Quays.

Cutting cake at opening ceremony

Sand Martin House is a fantastic modern facility, which fully feels like home now to the many staff who moved across there in the late summer and autumn.

Fletton Quays continues to develop at pace, with building work continuing on high quality apartments, a Hilton Garden Inn hotel, leisure and retail offerings.

It’s on schedule to be finished in 2020 and once complete will show everyone that Peterborough is ready for business and investment.


Much to be proud of in the city

As an expanding city, we have our fair share of new homes, extensions and developments.

So it is only right that the city was recognised at the Local Authority Building Control regional awards ceremony last week with one winning entry and five finalist places.

Scott’s Farm, a private cul-de-sac in Glinton, built by Rutland based firm, Hereward Homes scooped a gold award in the Best Small New Housing Development category. Peterborough also scored highly in many other categories too.

It was also a finalist in several categories including Best Inclusive Building for the Cross Keys Homes Lapwing Court building used as social housing for over 55s, Best Education Building for Hampton Gardens Secondary School and Best Extension for 20 High Street, Glinton.

While attending the ceremony with our head of planning, I met with many developers across the region which were impressed with our city’s growth and regeneration over the last 10 years.


Fairer funding needed for schools

I’ve spoken a lot in the past few weeks about the unprecedented growth in our population and the resulting huge increase we’ve experienced in demand for services.

One example of where the impact of an ever growing population is the most stark is education. In particular meeting our legal duty to provide school places for every child that needs one.

The increase we have seen in the number of school children in Peterborough in the past decade is phenomenal and certainly unprecedented.


Peterborough schools are now teaching 7,360 extra children than they were ten years ago – to put it into perspective that’s more than the population of Sawtry.

As a result the council, working alongside city schools, has created around 9,000 new school places to cope with the increase in numbers as well as prepare for future demand.

This expansion programme has cost £300million, however government funding has only partly covered this and the council has had to borrow £100million to ensure that every child in the city has a school place – that works out to borrowing £27,000 every day for the past decade.


Education review published for Peterborough

Towards the end of last year I made a personal commitment to leave no stone unturned in trying to understand whether there was anything more that could be done to improve the education offered to children and young people.

You may recall that I spoke of a unique set of challenges experienced by schools, which I and many others believed helped to explain why Peterborough is faced with the highly unusual scenario of being one of the best areas of the country for the number of schools judged good or outstanding by Ofsted, yet attainment being one of the weakest.

The task that I set Councillor Lynne Ayres, cabinet member for education for the city council, was to lead a review of education to see whether there was anything more that we, the schools and anyone else involved in education could be doing and to test whether the challenges that many people believe exist in Peterborough are fair and accurate.

This was against the context of changing national legislation in relation to the provision of education generally which, in particular, reduces the council’s role and responsibility in relation to the management of schools and its ability to intervene in the running of schools. The review was also commissioned because of the publication of Key Stage 2 results which placed Peterborough 151st out of 152 local authorities in England.


Promoting the importance of good school attendance rates

Headteachers having the option to fine parents for taking their children out of school has been a hot topic since the government clamped down on term-time absence four years ago.

I have great sympathy with parents who try and avoid more costly holidays, and I’m aware that for some families going away during term time is the difference between having a holiday and not because of the huge cost difference.

But last week’s Supreme Court ruling in the case of Jon Platt from the Isle of Wight, who was fined £120 for taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Florida, has helped highlight the need for parents to heed the rules and for their children to attend school regularly, unless there are exceptional or unavoidable circumstances.

I receive lots of emails and letters from parents who are unhappy that they cannot take their children out of school without the risk of a fine.

But there are very good reasons which are in the best interests of a child’s education as to why the rules apply. It’s so important that children attend school so that they can reach their full potential. It is more difficult for children to do this when they are being taken out of school during term time.


Investment announced for partnership to help local schools

In December I made a commitment to leave no stone unturned in the city’s challenge to raise educational attainment.

It’s for this reason I’m pleased to announce that we are investing £150,000 in a partnership with a city-based not-for-profit organisation, Success for All, who will be working with a number of our schools.

Success for All works with more than 60,000 children in more than 130 schools across the UK which face similar challenges to schools in Peterborough. They do this by transforming the way children learn, encouraging pupils to work more collaboratively and changing the way teachers interact with pupils in the classroom.


Reading is one of the most important skills in life

There are few more important skills you can learn in life than being able to read.

Without it, simple things like making sense of the instructions on a packet of food or understanding a utility bill can prove daunting.

Last week the government published its validated key stage 2 results for our primary schools, revealing how many pupils reached the required level of attainment in reading, writing and mathematics.

Although the results show some progress, overall they need to improve and this is why I have commissioned a review to begin in the new year to see if there is anything more the council can do to support our schools to raise attainment.


St Michael’s Gate petition to be discussed in final full council meeting of 2016

As I write this week’s column I’m just a few hours away from the final full council meeting of the year.

One of the items up for discussion is a petition relating to St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell which asks councillors to debate and reconsider the decision to use the properties for our homeless families.

The council has now entered into a contract with Stef and Phillips so it’s too late to reconsider. However, I stand by the decision for reasons I have explained previously.

The alternative, if we’d said no, is that the homes would have been offered to another local authority who would then use them to house their own families in housing need. These are people we would then have a duty to support at a time when services such as education and social care are already stretched. The existing households that live in St Michael’s Gate would still have to find somewhere else to live. In addition, we’d have had to make cuts to our services next year to the tune of £2million, which would have affected every resident in the city.


Peterborough schools judged positively in annual report

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills published his final annual report, prior to his retirement, on 1 December 2016.  

The report highlights, amongst other things, that Peterborough is one of the best areas for the number of schools judged good or outstanding by Ofsted. In the East of England, Peterborough is ranked joint third for the percentage of children attending good or outstanding schools at both primary and secondary level. Translated into real figures the following represents the progress made:

  • 91% of primary school pupils in Peterborough attend good or outstanding schools. This is a year on year increase of 6% and a 31% rise since 2012;
  • 92% of secondary school pupils attend a good or outstanding school. This is a year on year increase of 8% and a 9% rise since 2012.

Contrast this picture with the unvalidated data on education attainment in those same schools rated good and outstanding and you find a picture, at Key Stage 2 (11 year olds) where attainment is one of the weakest in the country. This picture may appear, on the face of it, puzzling and inexplicable but in reality this is not the case and I would like to explain why.