Underperforming Peterborough schools receive results warning by outgoing city council education chief

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Underperforming schools have been told to improve their results by the outgoing education chief at Peterborough City Council.

Jonathan Lewis is leaving the council at the end of October to take up the top job in children services at Northamptonshire Council Council.

But even as he departs Peterborough after eight years as service director for education, his demands for the city’s schools remain high.

Mr Lewis has issued formal notice warnings to four schools under the council’s control due to disappointing recent results.

The warnings require the schools to put in an action plan for improvement or else face direct intervention.

And although he refused to name which schools they were - citing a need for confidentiality - Mr Lewis believes the notices will kick headteachers and governors into action to improve results.

Mr Lewis said: “We are doing lots of work with them. In the last four years we have issued the notices and the schools have had big turnarounds.”

Mr Lewis believes his biggest legacies in Peterborough are seeing the number of schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted increase from 50 to 85 per cent and the £250 million investment into creating new school places and better facilities.

But as he discussed Peterborough’s latest set of exam results for all years - which are still unvalidated - to councillors on the Creating Opportunities and Tackling Inequalities Scrutiny Committee he expressed a wish to see the city’s schools continue to close the gap to the national average.

He said: “We are hopeful we have closed the gap. Progress rates are in line with the national one.

“There’s still work to be done but everything is getting done that needs to be .

“We have improved every year for the last five years.”

National and county results are not currently available with Peterborough releasing their unvalidated ones early.

Mr Lewis, who said his move to Northamptonshire was for career development purposes and not because of problems at the council, also confirmed that the University Technical College never opened this year as planned because there was not sufficient take-up, although he hoped that would change in 2016.

Speaking directly to councillors, Mr Lewis said: “Our overall view is positive. We continue to improve and our results on the whole have gone up. We are pleased with how children improve at school.

“We wait to see how we have done against the rest of the county.”

Mr Lewis said the council has gone from 147th to 64th in a list of 152 authorities for the number of schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

He also said warning letters to schools were to “offer support but challenge them.”

He added: “Our experience is when we issue those formal warning notices we see rapid improvement.”

But he then went on to say: “Our relationship with schools is second to none.”

The results for Peterborough drew approval from Councillor John Shearman who said: “Not only is the progress good, but our attainment is moving up. We have come a long way in the last three years.”

Cllr Shearman asked whether one poor school performance could have a big impact on Peterborough’s standing nationally, to which Mr Lewis replied: “Where we see a large secondary school under-performing it does make a difference.”

The committee chair Cllr Bella Saltmarsh said: “Most of our schools are doing well and we have confidence we are dealing with schools that are not.”

Mr Lewis also discussed at the meeting the difficulties in preparing the right number of school places for Peterborough and getting the appropriate funding.

Mr Lewis said he was “proud” of his department for guaranteeing a place for every pupil.

Data used to work out what places are needed come from the census, GP data and birth data as well as housing developments.

The problem, Mr Lewis said, was that it was hard to know which areas the families will be living in, particularly those with children who are going into reception classes.

Getting the right number of school places for each school year is a “really careful balancing game” but is currently being managed.

Places for the next three years are felt to be sufficient, but more resources will be needed after that and a bid will be put in to make use of the council’s capital fund.

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