Concerns raised as schools battle budget cuts

There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t hear about a council, school, police force or health service struggling to make ends meet.

Just recently there’s been a national focus on schools with reports of headteachers having to make difficult decisions, such as finishing the school day early, making teachers redundant and cutting spending on books.

Nationally the pressure on schools is starting to show and Peterborough is no different. Across the country around 60 per cent of schools are said to be in that difficult situation of spending more than their income. Pupil numbers have increased by ten per cent since 2010 whilst teacher numbers have remained largely the same.

In Peterborough, there has been government investment in education in recent years, but significant cost pressures and a sizeable increase in pupil numbers mean that in real terms schools are managing on a reduced budget. Between 2010 and 2018 our pupil numbers have increased by 26 per cent since, that’s 7,892 extra pupils.

Schools have done a tremendous job despite the pressures and have kept a close eye on the financial situation, meaning that pupils here have not experienced some of the changes we have seen taking place elsewhere. But headteachers and governing bodies may not be far away from having to take more drastic action such as this if the government does not provide better financial support. 

Recently we wrote to every headteacher in the city to assess the level of impact that funding cuts have had on schools. About 75 per cent of schools have responded and some of the things they are telling us is that they are increasing class sizes, cutting certain subjects from the curriculum such as drama, using apprentices to cover roles and reducing the number of teaching assistants. There are also cases of headteachers teaching classes when there are not enough teachers to cover and some of our schools are sharing equipment such as lawnmowers.

These examples make it clear that we are following the same path as other parts of the country where schools have had to take more drastic action such as making teachers redundant. It the funding situation is not addressed, it could impact our children’s education as well as their future prospects.

Councillor Lynne Ayres, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, education, skills and university, will now be using the responses from headteachers to write a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds MP to demand a meeting with him and his officials to make him aware of the very serious situation in Peterborough and the need for additional funding for schools.

Let’s hope he takes the situation seriously, not just in Peterborough, but across the country as a whole.


New schools and new starts

This September hundreds of children will start school for the first time and many more will make the jump from primary to secondary.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, not least because we have one of the highest birth rates, we’ve once again faced huge pressure to meet a rising demand for school places.

In fact, as of the national offer days in April and May, we had offered 5,580 children a school place for September – that’s 132 more than last year.

Despite the increase, we were still able to provide the vast majority of children their first place school – 90.4 per cent for primary applications and 85.6 per cent for secondary – with 97 per cent offered one of their three preferred schools.

We’re able to achieve this success because of careful planning by our school admissions team and of course the investment we have made in schools in recent years – and continue to make – to increase the number of places.

We’ve extended and rebuilt schools across the city and new schools have opened in Cardea and Hampton in recent years so we can continue meeting the needs of our growing population.

Only last week the government announced it had approved applications for two new schools in PeterboroughManor Drive Academy at Paston Reserve which we’re progressing with the 4Cs Academy Trust, and a new Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided primary school at Hampton Waters. Both schools are targeted for opening in 2022, subject to further discussion with the Department for Education. It was really good news and a credit to those who worked on the applications when you consider that only 18 per cent of bids for funding were successful and we had two!

In 2017 the government also agreed to fund a new primary school at Paston Reserve. This along with the secondary school will cost in the region of £32million – money we would have to find if our bid had proved unsuccessful.

With demand for school places only going one way, we continue to plan to meet future demand.

Work starts on site at a new primary school at Hampton Lakes early next month – again funded by the government. Other projects are due to conclude over the summer, including extensions of Jack Hunt School to include a new classroom block and dining facility, Oakdale Primary in Stanground and Woodston Primary.

Regardless of the significant pressures on our budget, meeting the demand for school places is one pressure that we will always have to meet. And that’s not just because we have a legal duty to do so, but because the future success of our city is founded on the youngsters of today being offered a high standard of education in buildings that allow them to reach their full potential. (more…)

Still a fan half a century later

Before I write about anything else in my first blog of 2018, I would like to say a huge well done to Peterborough United for a fantastic game at the weekend.

I took the journey to the Villa Park ground with my grandsons on Saturday fully expecting an entertaining game, and by the time the first half ended, it was clear it would be just that.

All the players really stepped up and delivered a superb team performance, with Jack Marriott and Ryan Tafazolli delivering a perfect header from the corner to secure a 3-1 win.

My grandson Lewis went as far as to say it was the best football match he’d ever seen. Let’s hope he sees an even better one against Fleetwood or Leicester at the end of the month.

New developments

Sticking with the POSH theme, it’s a little known fact that my wife Barbara and I went on our first date together at the London Road ground just over 54 years ago. It was a memorable date for many reasons and we’ve been POSH fans ever since.

We got married in 1964 and just a few years into married life, I remember hearing exciting plans for a new development at North Westgate, a promising area near to the train station.


Over the years many developers have come forward with big ideas on how to regenerate this site, which lies in an important location but is very much under-used, none of which have come to fruition.


Peterborough matters and we need to fight for fairer funding

One of the questions I often get asked is whether the cuts to our government funding have impacted our ability to provide services as severely as some other councils are reporting.

I think that might be because in Peterborough we’ve minimised reductions in services and increases in council tax for residents while still investing in the city and consistently balancing our budget.

The truth is that it differs for every council, with some areas affected worse than others.

I would argue that in Peterborough we are one of the worst affected areas, with our funding from government failing to take into account unprecedented increases in demand or population growth – our funding is simply cut year after year.

Between 2013/14 and 2019/20 our Revenue Support Grant – the main government grant we receive to support a range of services delivered by the council – will have been reduced by 80 per cent.

Graph showing reduction in funding

What would you do if the wages coming into your household reduced by 80 per cent? You could cut out the luxury items, meals out and new clothes, but how would you still pay for all those essential items such as heating, water and food?


Keep fit and help good causes

This Sunday the city will be packed with people hoping to achieve a personal best in this year’s Perkins Great Eastern Run.

This annual event is a highlight in the city’s calendar and one which attracts more and more people each year since its return in 2006.

Running has grown in popularity over recent years, partly thanks to the sporting achievements of Mo Farah and the rest of Team GB in the London and Rio Olympic Games.

However, I think it’s also down to the freedom it offers and its ability to fit easily into our modern lives.

Running (and walking, my personal favourite) are the few forms of exercise that can be done alone and in almost any environment. You don’t need any expensive equipment, you just put on your shoes and go.

The health benefits of regular exercise and getting out into the fresh air are undeniable and we all know we should be doing a lot more of it.

So with that in mind, I’ve got two messages for you ahead of this Sunday’s race event.

Firstly, I’d like to wish everyone participating in the half marathon and the Anna’s Hope 5km Fun Run an enjoyable and successful day.

And secondly, I’d like to invite everyone reading this column to make time this weekend for a 30 minutes walk or run. If you want to tie it in with watching the Perkins Great Eastern Run in action, you can find the route on the PGER website. However, one of the best locations to watch the runners pass is Cathedral Square.


Simple steps to a healthy Peterborough

Every week I read stories in the media about what I should or shouldn’t be doing to improve my health or increase my life expectancy.

One week it’s beneficial to have a glass of wine a day, the next it’s not. Having too much sleep can kill you, but so can not enough – how do you strike the right balance!

If you’re like me you probably find it confusing and contradicting. Our Healthy Peterborough campaign is trying to offer residents some clarity by providing medically proven information and advice on how to kick poor health into touch, by making simple lifestyle changes. Each month the campaign targets a different health issue and in July the focus has turned to our youngest residents.

Improving the health of our children is so important as I believe that those who are healthy and physically active perform better at school because they are happier and more confident.

We have invested heavily in our schools in the past few years so that all our children, regardless of where they live in the city, receive the best possible education and the best start in life. I’m proud that currently more than 85 per cent of our schools are judged good or better by Ofsted.

That’s all very well, but it’s just as important that we concentrate on improving the health of our children so that they are best able to succeed at school.

Exercise and healthy eating both help children maintain a healthy weight which reduces their risk of poor health. A healthy weight can also increase self-confidence and improve concentration, which helps them to learn and go on to achieve great things. (more…)

We are working on a skills strategy

When it comes to jobs and career opportunities, Peterborough is a great place to live. Around 100,000 people in the city are working full-time, unemployment is falling and the number of residents claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance is at its lowest level since 1992.

As the city grows, so too will the number of companies and the people they employ. That’s great news, but it’s very important not to be complacent.

The employment market is ever-changing, and to really benefit from jobs growth in the future we need to make sure local residents, especially our young people, have the right skills.

Recent research shows that by 2022 there will be a strong demand for people in professional roles and at manager and director level, and fewer roles for administrators, tradespeople and manual workers. The demand for degrees is likely to increase by almost 30 per cent, while those with a doctorate or masters could see demand for their knowledge grow by up to 74 per cent.

Meanwhile, those with no qualifications or low GCSE grades will find it increasingly challenging to find jobs.

That’s why we are working on a Skills Strategy to make sure that people in Peterborough have the right skills to be sought-after employees in the future.

We’re focusing on the core business sectors that make Peterborough their home, like engineering, food and drink, digital and creative, energy and environment, financial services and healthcare. The new Skills Strategy will be discussed at scrutiny next week.

We’ll be working with local employers to make sure they deliver training and apprenticeships, as well as with schools and colleges so that young people leave with the right skills to find and keep a great job locally.

Greater Peterborough University Technical College (GPUTC) will play a vital role in this when it opens in September, through its focus on specialist engineering skills.