Cllr Holdich tells Andy Gall from the BBC why some schools in Peterborough cannot cope with the number of pupils who will be starting in September. Interview broadcast at 07:18 on Monday 16th August 2010 in the Peterborough Broakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
AG: A steep increase in demand has led to a shortage of primary school places in Peterborough. Several schools are already full for next term. The PE1 area and Hampton are facing the worst pressure. Councillor John Holdich is Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Universities and joins us now. Good morning Councillor.
JH: Good morning Andy.
AG: So how acute is the shortage in primary school places?
JH: Well across the city there are spare places, but there are two hotspots. One is more or less in the Central area, the PE1 area, as you describe, where there is so much inward migration it’s a job to plan for places there. There are places, but you’re not necessarily getting your first choice.
AG: Why is it a job to plan for it then, if there’s so much inward migration? Where does the planning de-rail?
JH: Well, one plans on demography. But unfortunately you don’t know who’s going to arrive in this country, and how many children they are going to have. And this might well be a non-story come September, because although we know who’s applied for a place, and we’ve allocated places to these young people, what we don’t know is who’s gone home.
AG: That seems a little bit wishy-washy, doesn’t it, a bit ad hoc? I always had this perception that with censuses people know where you are, with this Big Brother society we’re meant to be living in, so you know who’s coming and who’s going. But it sounds like when it comes to primary school education you sit down and you see all these kids knocking on the door and you’re slightly surprised and slack-jawed at how many are showing up.
JH: Well that’s right. If you listen to different programmes across the media you would assume that migrants are going home. But they are still arriving in great numbers in Peterborough. And it is quite a hotspot. If you move on to Hampton, which is a completely new area, I was involved twenty years ago in the planning of Hampton, and experts were saying it was going to be two point three people per house, which I thought was a bit peculiar at the time and said so. And there’s more people moving to Hampton, because they are three, four, five bedroom houses, than was anticipated.
AG: So this is in itself another issue, isn’t it, when you get new developments, new housing estates that come up, and people are critical of the infrastructure, saying that in many cases there’s not the right shopping facilities, or transport links. And this is another area that may have been overlooked, or clearly has been overlooked, about the requirement for primary school building.
JH: Well yes. In Hampton you carried a story a few weeks ago which I did. We have started an extension on Hampton Hargate. And we have put a mobile classroom onto the other Hampton school.
AG: But it’s not an ideal situation, a mobile classroom, is it?
JH: No, it’s not an ideal situation, but had the recession not come along there would have been another school built in Hampton, or certainly underway by now. But the slowdown in the sale of houses across the country has meant that the planning gains that trigger a new school have been delayed.
AG: Yes. We’re always told John how key the early learning phase of a person’s development is, certainly in primary school. If you put in the right foundations, a bit like building schools maybe, if you put in the right foundations then the child will develop and grow and achieve great things. But at the moment you’ve got parents who are actually a little bit worried that their children will even get through the front gates.
JH: I couldn’t agree more with you. And I’ve said many times that I’m trying to build an education system from the bottom up, because if they’re successful at the bottom, the exam results in secondary schools will improve also.
AG: How big are some of the classes going to be then, for the new term?
JH: It isn’t a question, I’ve pushed for that by other media, it isn’t a question of increasing the classes, because the class sizes have to be thirty. The only time that alters is if there’s an independent panel has let a child into the school for health or social reasons. It might then be thirty one. But no, they’re not going to increase the sizes. Eighty six per cent or thereabouts got their first or second choice of school. And it means they’re not getting the choice of school that they put in for.
AG: Ok. Right. Well let’s try and sort of gather this together and be a bit more cogent about it, because people will be listening who have got children that they’re trying to get into schools. So almost like school closures that you read about for bad weather, which schools are the worst hit so far? You’ve mentioned that Hampton Primary School .. are you saying that’s full?
JH: Yes they are full. And there are twenty children from Hampton that are going across the footbridge to one of the schools in the Ortons, come September.
AG: And that’s going to cost the Council more money as well, because if you go from .. what is it, if you’re more than two miles away from where you live, then the Council has to fund the transport costs of getting you to the school wherever it is.
JH: That is correct. But that is not the case there where they are more than two miles away. But if they are, you’re quite correct, we do have to fund it. And that’s what’s wrong with the MPs statement, if I might say so, because it’s in the wrong place. What we need is schools in other areas. And I do have schemes that are currently or about to be underway. I’ve got seven primary schools that we are having an extension put on, and I’ve got three more that are in the planning stage. So we are working at it, but it’s not something that you can just put on tomorrow.
AG: Ok. So if there’s a parent listening now, who hasn’t got their child into the school that they want to at the moment, what’s your advice to them?
JH: Well there is an appeal process. You ring the City Council on 747474 and ask to speak to the person that deals with appeals, and you can appeal. But if the school’s full, you’re only going to get into that school on social or health grounds.
AG: Great. So it’s 747474.
AG: And that’s the number to ring. John Holdich, thank you very much for talking to us this morning. That’s Councillor John Holdich Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Universities. A bizarre start to the week, you find out that the police might have to cherry pick crimes that they want to fight, because of cuts that are planned for them, and now we’re being told that planning hasn’t been put in place really to understand the growth and development of the population of Peterborough in certain areas, so therefore your children will struggle to get into primary school places, certainly within the catchment area you’re living in, and will have to be shipped all over the place to try and find somewhere to sit and to start their learning process. What a curious twenty first century we’re moving into.