Councillor Reports School Place Crisis

08:10 Monday 10th January 2011 Peterborough Breakfast Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: All but two of Peterborough’s schools have a waiting list. Questions have been asked this morning about whether the city has enough school places to cope with the influx. Earlier Jonathan Lewis from Peterborough City Council said the system was under pressure. (TAPE)
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. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: The Council has already said that 2012 could be the crunch year for places. Jonathan Lewis said that more money will be spent. (TAPE)
JONATHAN LEWIS: 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. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: One school with a waiting list is Fulbridge Primary School in Central Ward. Their councillor is Charlie Swift. Morning Charlie.
CHARLES SWIFT: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: It’s not so much a waiting list as a waiting toilet roll, it goes round and round this waiting list, doesn’t it?

CHARLES SWIFT: Well I appreciate what that young man’s just said, and he’s doing his best, but we’ve got that medium term plan. Now these are not Charles Swift’s, these are from the Education for the Medium term plan. Let me just quote you that Government had got a programme, but the Government are reducing the money which is in there, and it says here, I’ll just quote you: “Rising numbers of primary age children etcetera future allocations under the Government programme and (are?) now uncertain.” That’s the first paragraph. And then the next one is: “However there are very serious concerns about the continuing need for places , and there being sufficient funding to provide for them.” And we know that the Government cuts are going to make this so you know they’re doing their best locally, but the writing’s on the wall. And it’s there for us all to see. And we’re discussing it in February at the Council meeting. So they’re not Charles Swift’s. But my concern is I’ve got mothers this morning that live dead opposite Fulbridge Road School. Their husbands are out of work. They don’t have a motor car. And they look at the school gates as they pass them, and they’ve got to walk two to three miles to take them to Walton or to the Discovery at Watergall, get them there at the same time, and then walk back again, and then walk back again this afternoon, about a six or seven mile round trip. You tell me any of your listeners this morning that can walk by a school, can’t get the children in at the school, be offered, which the local authority do, two school places two to three miles apart in other parts of the city. It’s just impossible. And something drastically’s got to be done.
PAUL STAINTON: So that’s the way we’re managing at the moment, where we’re just filling places up wherever we can find them.
CHARLES SWIFT: We’re on a knife edge. I sit on a school transport appeals committee, spent hours and hours and hours on there. And they haven’t got the places at Hampton for the new people there. People are having to do two or three buses. And then in one of the cuts that has been announced in the Medium Term Plan, they’ve raised the area for children between six and nine years of age from two miles to walk to school to three miles.
PAUL STAINTON: Wow. A three mile walk.
CHARLES SWIFT: A three mile walk. And you’re not walking like you did one hundred years ago, through lovely open fields all the way down to Peterborough. You’re negotiating all these underpasses where we have muggings every five minutes, and busy main roads. So I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the education officers in Peterborough, but we are in one hell of a mess.
PAUL STAINTON: And this year is not the year, is it Charlie, it’s next year we’ve got to really worry about.
CHARLES SWIFT: Next year we’re worse than ever, next year. So let’s be quite frank about it. I’m just drawing up what I’m going to say at the next Council meeting about the proposals. But the Government haven’t got a ruddy clue the position they’re putting us in.
PAUL STAINTON: And what’s the future hold Charlie?
CHARLES SWIFT: Well it’s very uncertain. And it’s very sad. But I think it’s up to each councillor, the Park Ward, the Central Ward, and the North Ward. Whilst we was in the meeting on Friday, talking to the education officers, there was a lady that had just arrived from the Eastern European community, in Bayard Place, and she had eight children, six of school age. And they’re all coming in to the areas like where I live, where the old Victorian houses are, or the three bedroomed council houses. And they’re entitled to all of the facilities. And by and large they’re very keen about getting the .. So they’ll turn up at the school, to get the kids in, and they can’t understand it. Why then you’ve got people fresh into England, they don’t know where Watergall Bretton is, Hampton, Timbuctoo or anywhere else. And so we’re in a bloody mess.
PAUL STAINTON: Charlie, thank you for that. Charlie Swift. Councillor Charlie Swift, disagreeing somewhat with the Council and saying we are in a bit of a crisis when it comes to school places in the city. Some kids are walking miles to school, and potentially walking three miles there and three miles back, come next year. Is it right? What can be done?