Expanding Peterborough’s schools to meet demand

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It hardly seems possible, but in just a few days’ time thousands of children across the city will be returning to school, writes leader of Peterborough City Council Cllr John Holdich.

Good luck to the little ones starting in reception and all those moving to a new school - for these children it’s a particularly exciting and nerve-wracking time.

Once again this year we have been able to provide a school place for every child that needs one - that’s despite further increases in pupil numbers.

I read a story in the national media at the weekend about the pressure councils are under to provide enough school places, a pressure that we feel every year.

It included some stats on the number of pupils not gaining a place at their first choice school.

In some parts of London 40 per cent of families did not achieve their first place secondary school last year and in other parts of the country it’s about 20 per cent.

This year in Peterborough 91 per cent of children were offered their first preference primary school and 85.6 per cent were offered their first choice secondary school. When you consider that Peterborough is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, not least because we have one of the highest birth rates, it’s a huge achievement.

Between 2010 and 2018 our pupil numbers increased by 26 per cent, that’s 7,892 extra children.

We’re able to offer the vast majority of families their school of choice because of careful planning by our school admissions team, and the willingness of schools to expand. In doing so, they can take additional pupils and help us achieve our shared vision of being able to offer every child a place at their catchment school.

We’ve just completed extensions of Jack Hunt School to include a new classroom block and dining facility, Oakdale Primary in Stanground and Woodston Primary.

In recent years we’ve opened new schools in Cardea and Hampton and over the summer we’ve started on site at a new primary school at Hampton Lakes.

There are more new schools on the way too. Funding has been approved by the Government for Manor 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.

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 £32 million - money we would otherwise have needed to find to provide these schools.

With demand for school places only going one way, we continue to plan to meet future demand. Undoubtedly there are harder times to come, but we will continue to work closely with our schools and the Government to achieve the growth in our school place numbers that we predict we will need.

I was pleased this week to receive notification from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) that it has concluded its examination into our use of capital receipts.

You might recall earlier in the year that the government department said it was looking into the way we use capital receipts to meet the costs of borrowing, following an article by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

We maintained from the start that we were not acting illegally in taking this approach, and that legislation allowed it - a view supported by external Treasury advisors and the council’s own external auditors.

As a result, we’re not surprised that MHCLG has closed its examination which means, in our view, that the way we have used capital receipts to safeguard vital services was allowed.

Taking this approach has allowed us to address gaps in our budget as we face the most severe cuts to government funding in the council’s history – allowing us time to work on longer term sustainable budget options.

Residents are being told to be on their guard after a large quantity of counterfeit goods were discovered at a car boot sale in Peterborough at the weekend by one of our trading standards officers.

They were at the weekly Bizzy Boot sale in Wellington Street car park last Sunday and seized counterfeit goods from a stall, including counterfeit Adidas and Gucci clothing and Nike trainers.

If you spot items for sale and you can’t be sure that they are authentic, the best thing you can do is keep your money in your pocket.