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.

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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…)

Celebrating the Year of Reading

Reading is one of the most important skills that you can teach a child and will define how well they achieve educationally and throughout their whole lives.

Barbara and I would read to our children every day when they were young until they were old enough to read for themselves. Even then we would encourage them by buying books and taking them to the library, which I do now with my grandchildren.

The other morning on my way into work I listened to a report on the radio about the level of disadvantage experienced by a child at school if they have not been read to from a young age. Many of them will struggle more than children who have experience of reading and may never make up this delay in their learning.

In Peterborough reading levels are lower than the national average. I want that to change, and quickly, so that every child in the city has the same opportunities to share a love of reading. That is why we launched Vision for Reading last year with our partners at the National Literacy Trust, Vivacity and City College Peterborough.

The campaign asks everyone in the city – teachers, parents, businesses and others – to play their part in helping children to develop a lifelong love of reading which in turn will improve their life chances.

Boys reading books

As part of it we’re supporting parents to prepare their children for school by, for example, reading to them at home, we’re training reading buddies in schools who can read with children and we’re celebrating the Year of Reading which launches on 22 June.

Everyone is invited to attend the launch in Cathedral Square between 10am and 4pm where there will be storytelling, free books to take home, activities and more.

The event kicks off a year-long programme of events that will include The Space Chase summer reading challenge, Roald Dahl Day in September, writing competitions and story trails. You can find out more by visiting www.peterboroughcelebrates.org.uk.

The year will culminate with a striking trail of book-shaped benches across Peterborough created by schools, community groups and businesses in association with creative producers Wild in Art.

Whether you’re a parent, business owner, or teacher, please support our campaign to get every child in the city enjoying books from a young age. For our children it will lead to improved life chances and for our businesses it will mean a better qualified workforce of the future.

Raising reading levels will always be harder for us in Peterborough than for many other areas because of the number of different languages spoken in our schools and a higher than usual number of children starting and leaving school mid-year.

But it is a challenge that we must meet and together I believe that we can. (more…)

Peterborough’s post-election priorities

Last week’s local elections saw the Conservative Party remain as the largest overall party on the council.

I would like to say a big thank you to those who voted and everybody involved in the organisation of the elections.

The council’s elections team has worked tirelessly in recent weeks and they were helped by hundreds of dedicated folk who staffed polling stations and counted votes on the night, so a big well done to you all.

Our focus now turns to the year ahead and delivering the services that residents told us were important to them when we were knocking on doors in the run up to the elections.

election count

Top of our agenda will be those residents who need our help the most – so keeping children and young people safe and allowing them to reach their potential and supporting adults and older people who need our help to remain living independent and happy lives.

We will continue to work closely with our schools to support them to attract good quality teachers and raise attainment levels. Plans for a university continue to progress and within a year I would expect to see planning permission in place for the university campus building on the embankment.

People who are in housing difficulty remain our priority and we will be working with them to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place and where this is not possible, supporting them to find suitable accommodation. We will also continue to support new house building projects so that we have a good supply of housing of all tenures coming forward to meet the needs of our growing city.

I know that the cleanliness of the city is a priority for our residents and that’s why we launched our own trading company to provide waste collection, street cleansing and other services. Doing so has given us more control over the way these services are provided.

We will continue to invest in our roads and cycleways, particularly in areas of the city where we are experiencing high levels of growth, so that people can continue to travel around our city with ease.

I also want us to work more closely with our residents so that they can help us to improve our communities. We are seeing good examples of this across the city, such as the Good Neighbours Scheme in Castor which supports the elderly. I believe we can help encourage many more initiatives like this, therefore putting our communities at the heart of everything we do.

There is much work to be done over the next 12 months to ensure we can continue providing the services that our residents need, against a backdrop of ever decreasing government funding and the need to make millions of pounds of savings.

As the largest party on the council, with support from our fellow opposition members, I believe that we can meet the challenge. (more…)

Now to tackle root cause of problem

On Monday evening it’s our annual full council meeting at the town hall and as usual this will be a significant event.

Not only will we be confirming new appointments, including a new Cabinet member and Mayor, but I’m going to be outlining some exciting new policies which we’ve been busy putting together.

Whilst we were out canvassing ahead of the elections one of the major issues that kept cropping up on the doorsteps was fly-tipping and more specifically what the council is doing to tackle it.

Fly-tipping is a nationwide problem, it happens for a multitude of reasons and it is difficult to tackle as many authorities, not just ourselves, are finding out.

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Christmas lights switch-on marks the start of the festive season

Saturday signals the beginning of the festive season in Peterborough with our Christmas lights switch-on taking place.

It’s always a great event and a real treat to see the faces of the children on Cathedral Square when Father Christmas appears on stage and the lights are switched on.

This year’s event will be our biggest yet because we’ve teamed up with Queensgate so that both switch-ons take place on the same night. The city centre lights will be turned on at 5pm with the build-up starting from 1pm with a line-up of local acts to get everyone in the Christmas spirit on the square.

Proceedings will then move to Queensgate for the centre’s festive celebrations. Starting at 5.30pm, crowds can expect plenty of entertainment including the official opening of Father Christmas’ grotto and the switch-on at around 7pm.  

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Council publishes first phase budget proposals

If you’d told me ten years ago that the money we get from government to provide services for our residents would be cut in half I’d have laughed at you.

Surely rising birth rates, people living longer and the inevitable greater pressure these factors place on our services would mean that our funding would go up and not down.

In an ideal world yes, but the reality is that in the past six years we’ve seen our government funding cut by £54million, which equates to nearly 50 per cent of our grant.   

Last Friday we published our first phase budget proposals which detail how we will close a £19million gap in our budget in 2017/18. Once again we’re ensuring that services for our most vulnerable residents are protected.

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