Opinion: ‘Schools are doing a fantastic job’

Peterborough City Council Leader John Holdich writes:

Saturday, 28th November 2020, 5:00 am
Schools have put a lot of work into mitigating Covid risk.

The Covid 19 pandemic has created many challenges for the council and our communities, in particular our schools, colleges and early years settings.

We want all our young people to be inside classrooms and gaining from that invaluable environment to learn, develop and grow.

Everyone involved in education has faced unprecedented pressures, so I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all our teachers, staff, pupils and parents for their sterling efforts.

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Schools across the city are pulling out all the stops to ensure that young people are getting the education they need and we will continue to support them.

The safety of our children, their families and our school staff remains one of our top priorities. We checked each school’s Covid-19 health and safety plans prior to opening in September and attendance remains high, consistently in the top 20 per cent in the country.

Feedback from teachers is that after putting safety procedures into place, many pupils are enforcing social distancing themselves. This is shown in the relatively low numbers who are self-isolating with 1,056 out of over 35,000 students currently, which is in line with the national average.

For pupils that are self-isolating we are ensuring they have access to home learning. I have three grandchildren at local schools who are currently self-isolating but thankfully they can still learn from home – the wonders of modern technology!

The experience of being in a classroom with a teacher and other pupils is so vital for children, so we will continue to actively work with schools to help keep them open.

Our education team is constantly working to ensure we have sufficient school places as the city’s population continues to rise and we also look to improve our existing schools and their facilities where possible.

Following on from news that a new primary and secondary school will be built at Paston Reserve, I’m delighted that plans for a new building for Heltwate School in Bretton have also got the green light.

This will see the nearby former Silver Jubilee pub demolished and a two-storey building constructed for the school’s early years pupils.

It has long been my ambition to replace the school altogether, but these plans allow us to both extend the school and refurbish the existing buildings.

The school, which caters for pupils with special educational needs, has experienced growing numbers in recent years. Its main site is limited in size and because many pupils require mobility equipment and space for activities, the school hasn’t been able to offer as full a curriculum as it would like.

This development will significantly improve facilities so that pupils’ needs are being met and more room is created, ensuring a much better environment for work and play.

This is really positive news, both for the school and the 
local community as the pub site has been derelict for several years and become an eyesore.

At the time of writing, we are still waiting to hear which tier Peterborough will fall into when lockdown ends next week.

But regardless of which tier it is, rates of the virus in our city remain high and we need everyone to continue to follow the rules to see that reduce.

Please, continue to limit your contact with people not in your household, wear face coverings in shops, on public transport and anywhere else where you come into contact with people, keep a safe distance from others and wash your hands regularly.

Most importantly, if you have symptoms, get a test and self-isolate.

With Christmas now less than a month away, I’d like to remind everyone not to miss our virtual Christmas lights switch-on next week.

Sadly, we can’t hold the much-loved public switch-on due to the pandemic, but you can still get into the festive spirit with our virtual pre-recorded version, which will be streamed online across our digital platforms on Wednesday, December 2, at 7pm.

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Community Radio presenter Kev Lawrence will once again be hosting the switch-on and there will be special appearances from local guests and Father Christmas himself would you believe.

Again, we would stress to people not to turn up to this event.

It is being pre-recorded to avoid large crowds gathering, so please watch it from the comfort and safety of your own homes.

Finally, this week saw White Ribbon Day take place, which aims to raise awareness of domestic abuse, support victims and ultimately end all violence against women.

We showed our support by raising a White flag outside Peterborough Town Hall and are working towards becoming a White Ribbon accredited council. We also recognise that both men and boys can be victims of domestic abuse.

Reporting of domestic abuse has risen this year due to the pandemic and I want everybody to know that specialist help is still available. I would urge anyone experiencing domestic abuse to access support - please do not suffer in silence.

Contact details for local services and national services, such as the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and the Men’s Advice line, can be found at www.cambsdasv.org.uk