I asked the following question at this week’s Full Council meeting to Cllr Jones, the lead Cllr for Education:
“It was recently reported that Reading Borough Council will have 1887 more secondary school pupils by 2020 and will need two new secondary schools to accommodate these. Can the Lead Cllr update us on what is happening to ensure future provision?”
Council research shows the projected surplus of 60 year 7 places in 18/19 becomes a deficit of 190 in 19/20. An extra eight form entry school sufficient to accommodate 240 pupils will suffice through the 2020’s. So only one school is needed. The council is currently planning for this. Several sites for the school have been identified and a bidding process will shortly be started to find an academy sponsor. Before the opening of this school agreement has been reached with five local secondary schools to take sufficient extra bulge classes. These must be thanked.
It is the process here I’d like to focus on. I’ve been a teacher for ten years and a Governor for five years. I’ve met many parents and I’ve never encountered one who has asked or cares about who runs their school, they just want the best for their child. But this is where the Tories fragmented education system comes in.
The new school cannot be run or administered by the local authority. All new schools must be academy run. We, as elected officials, and who parents hold to account, have no say in who gets to run our children’s schools. This is despite the fact that last year, 93% of local authority schools were rated good or better by Ofsted compared to 33% for academies. So who does choose the academy sponsor then….?
The academy sponsor is chosen by the Regional schools commisoner. Never heard of them? Well, that’s probably because our one for the South East, spans an area from Milton Keynes, half of London and across to West Berks. It includes hundreds of schools and there is no way, however good the member of staff, they know and can relate to the schools and areas. They also have a huge remit, from taking action on underperforming schools to finding sponsors. Residents will never meet them but it is these people who hold the responsibility of helping schools. Our new school will be under their remit too.
Lastly, the location of this school. Reading Council and Cllrs know the area and where the need is, so we decide right? Of course not! This is decided by the Department of education, suits in Whitehall with spreadsheets! We can recommend and research areas, but the final decision is not ours. But when it goes through planning, are the Dfe present to discuss? Of course not.
All parents want is the best education for their child, and I wholeheartedly agree. But the local authority is being given less and less chance to make this happen. Cut funding, mix up accountability, split school systems and then what? Privatise? We shall see.