Peterborough education system ‘brought forward 10 years by Covid pandemic’ but concerns over hungry children

The education system in Peterborough will be brought forward 10 years due to its response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the CEO of a city academy trust.

Thursday, 25th February 2021, 1:02 pm

Julie Taylor said collaboration in Peterborough has been “second to none” and that lessons learned will “enable us to move education forward in a way which would have taken us 10 years to get there if it had not been for the pandemic”.

The head of the Thomas Deacon Education Trust - which runs several city schools including Thomas Deacon Academy - said “there will be no putting this back in the box” in reference to the close working ties involving everyone in the sector.

However, she issued a warning over the difficulties in having to test thousands of secondary school pupils three times when they return to the classroom on March 8, and there was a stark reminder about food poverty among some pupils in the city, as well as a shortage of laptops for disadvantaged pupils.

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Julie Taylor

Speaking during Tuesday’s Peterborough Covid Summit labelled ‘fighting for our city”, which was attended virtually by leading officials from across the public sector and community groups, Ms Taylor said: “Too often we get drawn on focusing on the negatives, and there are some significant challenges ahead as we move towards a wider re-opening, but there have been some real success stories that have come out of this which I feel should make us feel very proud as citizens of Peterborough and people who work in Peterborough.

“The collaboration that has taken part across the city has been second to none and it hasn’t mattered whether schools belong to an academy trust like ours, or whether they’ve been a local authority maintained school.

“Everybody has worked extremely hard to pitch in and help resolve the problems together.

“We’ve had several discussions about how we’re going to build back better - what are the lessons we’ve learned which will enable us to move education forward in a way which would have taken us 10 years to get there if it had not been for the pandemic.

“Much of that is based around the technology.”

Reflecting on some of the challenges during the pandemic, as well as its after-effects, Ms Taylor added: “We’ve spent a lot of time during this pandemic ensuring that children are fed. There’s been fantastic support from the council, but still there are children who go to bed hungry at night in our city and that keeps me awake.

“We’ve heard much from our young people - we’ve run listening campaigns in our schools. They’re very concerned about their mental health and wellbeing and it’s undoubtedly taken its toll.

“And as we return to a wider re-opening I want to see a focus on those things which are important to them - arts, drama, music, sport etc - and just the opportunity for them to reconnect with each other and go back to being children and having that fun together. And occasionally being naughty!”

During the meeting director of public health at Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council, Dr Liz Robin, highlighted the previous impact of full school re-openings on Covid rates.

She said: “We know that in the November lockdown when schools were open our rates stayed stable. We want them to fall when schools return and we have a new tool - a new testing regime for families, teachers and pupils. 
“So we need to absolutely build on the excellent work our schools have done to date to keep everyone safe.”

The meeting also heard from council head of communications Christine Birchall, who said translated videos for different communities in Peterborough had been used in places such as Cornwall and Coventry due to their success, while work was ongoing with the NHS to encourage people from all background to take up their offer of a vaccination.