Council Deny School Place Crisis

07:07 Monday 10th January 2011 Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: As I mentioned earlier the deadline for Peterborough primary school applications ends in under a week. But are there enough places in this fair city for our young kids? Central Ward councillors have already expressed concerns over a shortage in their area. Last year there was a steep increase in pupils starting school, leaving many schools completely full. Jonathan Lewis is from Peterborough City Council. Morning Jonathan.

JONATHAN LEWIS: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: It looks like you’ve got a tough job on your hands here, because many many schools have huge waiting lists, don’t they?
JONATHAN LEWIS: We have waiting lists across the city. Places have filled up. We’re seeing the impact of higher birth rates and migrants moving to the city. I’m still confident we have enough places for the next year’s admissions round, and we continue to invest to build more schools and more places in the city.
PAUL STAINTON: Yeah. In the Evening Telegraph this morning their headline is “Schools Full in Education Crisis”. Is this a crisis?
JONATHAN LEWIS: I don’t believe it’s a crisis. I think we’re dealing with the situation. As I said we have plans. Last two years we’ve been looking at this issue. We’ve foreseen this happening, and we’ve invested to create additional capacity. There are parts of the city which have significant pressures that we couldn’t have foreseen, and we continue to try and find solutions to make sure there are sufficient places, so local children can attend local schools wherever possible.
PAUL STAINTON: 54 primary schools, 11 secondary schools under your control. Is it correct that only two of those schools don’t have a waiting list of pupils?
JONATHAN LEWIS: That is correct. But a waiting list may only be in one year group. It’s not every single year group that’s full. So there are waiting lists, and there’s waiting lists for children who live out of catchment, who could live miles away from the school, who may be on that waiting list.
PAUL STAINTON: Yeah. And then you’ve got schools like Fulbridge Primary, that have got a hundred and twenty kids on their waiting list.
JONATHAN LEWIS: It does vary. And good successful schools will always be oversubscribed, and parents will always seek to get into those schools. That’s very much the Government’s view on school places. Parental choice should see their way through it.
PAUL STAINTON: How many kids can you take in September?
JONATHAN LEWIS: We’ve got spaces for about 2600 children to go into the Reception Year at primary.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. And you’ve already had about 1700 applications.
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s getting close, isn’t it, to bursting poiint?
JONATHAN LEWIS: I wouldn’t say it’s close to bursting point. But it is you know it’s becoming tight, and we’ve looked at this, and there’s a list of schools that we’ve created additional spaces for, particularly for this year. And we have another set of schemes coming out the following year.
PAUL STAINTON: What have you done Jonathan? Prefabs in the school yard?
JONATHAN LEWIS: No. No we haven’t. We’ve done some proper building work. So the list, Beeches, we’ve created an extension, Welland, we’re going to rebuild, Discovery has an extension, Leighton has an extension, and various other schools which have had modelling work to create spaces. We’re not in the business of putting mobiles in unless absolutely essential. I wouldn’t allow that to happen anyway. So we’re looking for sustainable solutions.
PAUL STAINTON: You will be next year though, won’t you? Because there’ll be no surplus places for children starting school next year will there? That’s a quote from your own Budget report.
JONATHAN LEWIS: No. The Budget actually identifies further capital investment. There’s a hundred and thirty five million pounds going to be spent on schools. And we will get schools, physical schools built. Maybe short-term issues with mobiles, hope there won’t be but obviously planning can take some time. But I’m confident there are schemes on the table that will give us additional capacity.
PAUL STAINTON: Yeah. But it’s not going to be enough next year though is it? You’re not going to have enough capacity for all the kids going into primary school, are you?
JONATHAN LEWIS: It’s very difficult to work any further …
PAUL STAINTON: You might have to school kids outside of Peterborough mightn’t you?
PAUL STAINTON: You might have to school some of the kids outside of Peterborough.
JONATHAN LEWIS: No. I don’t think that will be an issue. We certainly have spaces in the city to deal with that. And as I said there’s schemes coming along. So no, I don’t think that’s going to be a situation next year.
PAUL STAINTON: You’re confident next year that you will not have mobile classrooms in the school yard. You will not be schooling primary school kids outside of Peterborough.
JONATHAN LEWIS: Mobiles will be there if we can’t get the building done quick enough, which could be an issue relating to planning. Putting children out of the city is not something we’ve looked at, and I don’t think that will be a situation that would happen.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So you’re confident the plans you’ve got in place will be good enough for the kids of this city to everybody get the school place that they want?
JONATHAN LEWIS: There will be sufficient places. There will always be schools that are over subscribed. Last year we got 89% of parents got their first choice in terms of preferences, above the national average. Obviously we will try and make that as high as we possibly can, so we continue to invest to make that happen.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. Are there any schools that don’t have a waiting list in Peterborough?
JONATHAN LEWIS: We only have one primary school that hasn’t got a waiting list at all, and that’s out at Wittering.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So every other primary school in this city that you run has a waiting list?
JONATHAN LEWIS: It has a waiting list of some kind. That could just be one year group that has one child on the waiting list. And as I said sometimes it could be parents who live ten miles away from that school who choose to go on the waiting list to wait for a place to come up. So waiting lists changed in terms of the legislation. We didn’t use to have waiting lists as such. That’s now changed as part of the legislative changes last year.
PAUL STAINTON: Yeah. And just to clarify, you said there’s enough places for this year for all primary school kids.
JONATHAN LEWIS:Yes we do have enough places to deal with the numbers coming in. Whether that’s the preference that .. the school that the parent has expressed as their first preference, as I say we did 89% last yeare. So hopefully we can be somewhere in that area this year.
PAUL STAINTON: But next year, it’s going to be a struggle. But you’ve put plan in place, yes?
JONATHAN LEWIS:Yes. In the Budget Strategy there is significant capital investment, much more than the authority has put in in the past, a hundred and thirty five million pounds in the next five years. We will create an additional 4200 primary places, and 2600 secondary school places, which we feel would be sufficient to deal with the growth we’ve got in the city.
PAUL STAINTON: But the pressure will be greater, and less children will get their first choice next year, won’t they?
JONATHAN LEWIS:It’s very difficult to say. Until you get all the applications in and actually run that process it’s very difficult to say. We’re still very much of the view that a local school should be for local children. And that’s what we’re aiming to achieve through this capital investment.
PAUL STAINTON: OK. Listen, thank you for coming on this morning. Appreciate that. Jonathan Lewis, Assistant Director for Resources within Children’s Services at Peterborough City Council.