Peterborough’s education chief has described the latest school league tables as “disappointing” but said ‘the only way is up, when you’re at the bottom’.
Peterborough’s primary schools finished second bottom in the latest SATs league tables, with just 55 per cent of children achieving the expected national standard of reading, writing and maths.
Only Bedford finished lower than Peterborough with 53 per cent, while nationally the figure was 65 per cent for children aged 5-11.
Speaking at last week’s Peterborough City Council Children and Education Scrutiny Committee meeting, council service director for education Jonathan Lewis said: “We’re still hearing reports of five-year-olds turning up for their very first day at primary school in Peterborough unable to read or write a single word and dressed in a nappy. This has got to be addressed.
“I know the latest set of league tables are disappointing, but really the only way from here is upwards and that has to be our overall aim for all of our schools when the next set of league tables come out.”
The figures for 2019, while not yet complete, do show a marginal overall improvement on 2018, albeit of just one per cent; but, critically, the Key Stage 1 2019 figures for reading (-0.9 per cent), writing (-0.3 per cent) and maths (-1.8 per cent) were all down on 2018 figures.
Committee member Cllr Graham Casey said: “Year after year we hear these appalling figures for our primary schools and every year somebody addresses this committee talking about ‘this solution’ or ‘that solution’ – yet nothing, it seems to me, is being done. Why?”
Mr Lewis said: “I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of where we are. Within GCSE results all subject measures for English and maths increased, apart for pupils achieving a 5+, which was down by three per cent.
“Key Stage 5 A-Level results were up by 0.3 per cent and those achieving A-Level Grade A-B were up by 2.3 per cent.
“One of the battles we’ve always had in Peterborough has been teacher training, recruitment and, of course, the eventual retainment figures.
“It isn’t easy to get these people, which is why the Government are paying such high subsidies at the moment for science, maths and computers teachers to undergo the training programmes they’re offering.
“For example, a physics teacher would get a tax-free bursary in excess of £30,000 plus training fees as a salary on top of that. The problem is, we simply can’t find these people, or not enough of them.
“That said, however, I’m pleased to announce we really do have some positive outcomes to this dilemma in Peterborough so that for the very first time in recent memory the numbers of teachers being trained has grown, and what’s more important, they’re staying here.
“It’s a small step in the right direction I agree, and there’s a lot, lot more work to do. But it is a step in the right direction.”
Cllr Nicola Day asked: “What incentives are we offering the teacher trainees to stay here in Peterborough when our national league tables for the city are so shockingly bad?”
Mr Lewis said: “There are many incentives we can offer young aspiring teachers who want to train in Peterborough, not the least of which this is a growing city where you can quickly make a real mark in the education system.
“We’ll continue to offer those incentives across our partner providers to get people to train and work here in Peterborough and to want to stay in our education programme.”
Cllr Casey was just as concerned about a subject matter that doesn’t appear in the report: “How many Peterborough students are going to university? And how does that figure impact on our aspirations to build a university in Peterborough?”
Cllr Lynne Ayres, cabinet member for children’s services, education, skills and university, responded: “I’m glad you’ve raised that subject because it is very important indeed for the design team who are currently working right now to bring the University of Peterborough into being.
“The exact numbers of students who actually leave our secondary schools and go on to university is very hard to extrapolate from the data we have, but it is being looked into because such figures can determine, for example, not only the size of a building on the new campus, but even whether it is required at all.”
Mr Lewis added: “The data we are looking at is not complete, and as with all data regarding education – even the league tables themselves – it cannot be seen as accurate until all of it has been passed to us, and that won’t be until the spring of 2020 at the earliest.
“We need to develop collaborative partnerships with the capacity to work together, sharing the information from those schools whose league table demonstrate they’re working and give that information to help the schools who are the neediest.
“We need to involve the teachers, the parents, the local authority and the school governors – of whom we need many more in our schools – to support the effective leadership of school improvement across Peterborough.
“Peterborough is a cold spot for higher education and skills, which is why we are pushing so hard for the development of the University of Peterborough.
“The project is seeking to develop the first UK hybrid model that sees technical learning embedded within the curriculum.
“As a result, the University in Peterborough will therefore have a course mix driven by local employer demand for skills in both the public and private sector.
“If we do this right it will be a first for education in the country, right here in Peterborough; but it’s of no use if the education of our youngest, vulnerable and most needy children at primary and secondary levels is not corrected at the same time.”