Author Archives: Ashley Pearce

Reading will unite after the tragedy in Forbury Gardens

The last few days have been an incredibly challenging time for Reading residents, and everyone connected with our great town. The unimaginable horror of this unprovoked, senseless act of violence is difficult to fathom. Three lives have been cruelly cut short and 3 others sustained serious injuries. Our thoughts go out to the families and friends of the victims and hopes for a full and speedy recovery to those that are injured. Huge thanks also go to our emergency services, yet again showing huge bravery to protect our communities and then pick up the pieces after such tragic events as this.

Anyone connected with Reading will know the importance of Forbury Gardens, one of the best descriptions I have read is that it is Reading’s back garden. That’s the thing, it is ours. Each of us will have our own memories and our own stories of the Forbury, which is what makes this tragedy seem so real and so close to home. For me it means teenage cider drinking, picnics on a first date, food festivals, political gatherings with colleagues, meetings friends for lunch and walking through with my kids to just take in the vibe and scenery. It’s a focal point of our town and will continue to be so.

Over the last few days as more details emerge of the victims and the lives they lived, the futures that have been lost I have found myself welling up and shedding tears at various points during the day. I don’t want to see my town on the news or on the front pages like this, because this is not Reading, this is not the Reading I have known and loved all my life. The Reading we all know is the one that cares, the one of great community, the one with great respect for one another and where we all just get on.

In the last few days I have felt grief for those lost and hurt, sorrow for those loved ones left behind, anger-how dare you do this in my town but also strength and pride. Pride in how already this great town and its residents have come together and will continue to do so to not cave in the face of this mindless terror. We have already come together for minutes silences and a more fitting, permanent memorial will come in due course. We will reclaim our Forbury, our back garden as the heart of Reading.

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Education policy headlines and reality

Free laptops for disadvantaged students
This is only for pupils with a social worker or disadvantaged students in year 10. These must be collected by pupils from their school & only recently arrived.

Johnson makes U-turn on free school meals
Hugely welcome (and thank you Marcus Rashford) but we need to make sure that younger pupils especially (who get universal free school meals) sign up for free school meals before the Summer otherwise they will miss out.

Boris Johnson promises huge amount of Summer catch up for pupils
Zero detail has been provided.

Extra £1bn for pupil catch up
This is to be shared amongst the UK’s 25,000 state schools. So far nothing for early years or further education colleges. £350m of this is a discount for tutoring. From the other £650m, some must be used to pay for this tutoring.

All Primary pupils back by July
Policy appears to have been dropped.

Every Child back by September
No detail of how this will be done (although expect the 2m social distancing rule to be dropped) and no mention if that means all pupils in school at the same time every day. Almost certainly not.

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Old Whitley library site proposed sale for community use

The old Whitley Library site will go before Councillors at the policy committee next week, where it’s sale will be proposed to turn it into an area for community use. The bidders can’t yet be revealed due to commercial sensitivity and confidentiality but will be known in due course after the meeting.

The sale of this site ensures that the historical frontage of the building will be maintained, and Tree protection orders will be placed on trees to keep these preserved. Additional parking next to the site will also be provided.

We are pleased that the site will remain in community use rather than being over developed in another way. The purchaser is local, with a community ethos and aspirations to provide education support to the local community. I will be attempting to arrange a meeting with the new owners to discuss how we can work together on this as soon as possible.

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Reading Labour statement on further opening of schools

Matt Rodda, MP for Reading East, supports the stance adding: “Returning to school is a priority for pupils’ education and well being, however the date pupils return should be determined by how they can return safely.

“I support the council’s approach that each local school should be able to decide the safest time to reopen, taking into account their individual circumstances.

“I also think the Government should have carried out much more work with with parents, schools and teaching unions, together with councils and the NHS before deciding when schools should reopen.” 

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National Thank a teacher day

Wednesday is national Thank a teacher day, where I hope we can all take a moment to appreciate the work of our hard working education professionals.
The last few months have been incredibly tough for young people with great upheaval, change and uncertainty. But throughout all of this, their teachers have been there to support them, the mediums may have changed but the care and dedication is still there.

I have been humbled by how teachers have adapted to this new world and risen to the challenge. There have been so many wonderfully creative ways that teachers have engaged with their students both in and out of schools. I’ve seen vegetable gardens, top Trumps for pets, plays acted out, alien profiling and baking competitions amongst many many other fantastic activities to keep students learning but more importantly, ensuring the well being of our young people. 

Above all else this is what out teachers do, they provide reassurance, safety and care for our young people, and for this I am very very grateful. So, Thank you teachers, today and every day. 

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Schools reopening round up

The discussions around how and when schools will open to more pupils is evolving hour by hour. Here is a round up of the latest goings on:

BMA LETTER : The British Medical Association have written a letter backing the NEU’s 5 tests before schools can return. https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-doctors-back-teachers-fears-over-schools-reopening

Unions ask for more evidence: Teaching unions met with the Dfe to ask for them to release the science behind their decision to “reopen” on June 1st, this is yet to be done. https://www.itv.com/news/2020-05-15/meeting-over-school-return-leaves-many-questions-unanswered-says-union-chief/

Some Council’s have said they won’t reopen on June 1st: Liverpool Council has been followed by a few others in saying they will defy Government advice and not open on June 1st. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-52679548

NAHT say June 1st not feasible: Boss of head teachers union NAHT Paul Whiteman has said it won’t be possible to open schools as per Government plans at the start of June. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52633150

Dfe say absence a matter for heads: Whilst it has been confirmed parents will not be fined if they choose not to send pupils to school, the Dfe have said staff absence consequences are sown to heads. https://www.tes.com/news/action-over-absent-teachers-matter-heads-says-dfe

LGA Call for Local authorities to have power to close schools if Covid cluster emerges: https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/article-listing/council-powers-close-schools-covid-19-clusters.html

Dfe say no pupil rotate: further guidance was released this week in which the Government said they don’t want totals (e.g. specific days in for year groups). https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-schools-defy-dfe-over-pupil-rotas

Children just as likely to contract Covid-19: Research released this week as well as ONS data claims young people are at least just as likely to get the virus as other age groups. https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-children-in-england-more-likely-to-be-infected-with-covid-19-than-any-other-age-group-study-warns-11988784

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New guidance on school opening

What we know:

– Reception, year 1 and year 6 back in school on June 1st
– There will be no PPE in schools
– Social distancing not expected in Primary
– Class sizes of 15 in Primary
– Class sizes halved in secondary
– No penalty for parents not sending kids
– Break/lunch/Drop offs to be staggered
– Pupils kept in same group/room where possible

Further Questions

– Are years 10 & 12 expected back on June 1st? If so, how many hours per week?
– Will there be any help to provide hand washing facilities?
– Does “limiting shared resources” include computers & PE equipment?
– When the guidance says “Schools should provide meals for all children in school” – Does this mean no packed lunches?
– Whilst flexible work practices are encouraged, how will it be ensured this takes place?
– If 2m distance between desks cannot be achieved in secondary schools, locating to another local school is mentioned, is it not more likely they are all incapable of doing this?
– If schools and local settings are best places to decide what is taught, can you confirm there is no expectation of teaching the curriculum?

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Students will need time

In March teachers and students were flung into a new world of distance learning. Neither side particularly wanted this, and neither side was prepared. But teachers have adapted quickly and developed a huge range of methods to deliver learning from afar. The Dfe recently announced best practice for this new world and the Education Endowment Foundation quickly released research they had done on what’s best in this field. None of it is surprising or that different to class room teaching. Recap on prior learning, be specific with instructions, keep work in small but regular chunks, vary the type of work set and feedback on pupils work. These are all good practice for the class room but can, and have been adapted by teachers for our new norm. But we can replicate the other vital side of school, the social element. It is this aspect young people will be missing most.

I send an email to my classes each Monday containing a podcast from me, the weeks work and a few more light hearted aspects like joke and fact of the week, well being tips and I even introduced Mrs Pearce’s quote of the week, linking something she has said in the week to Business/Economics (my subjects). This week I also included a survey for students to fill in about how they are getting on with school work and Lockdown in general. Not a vast survey but I think the wider sentiment among young people would be similar. In general students were going to bed a little later and getting up a little later, they are still spending most of their time on school work (with computer games and phone use distinct seconds), they think the amount of work set is about right and mostly prefer tasks where they make their own notes on topics (not online tasks). This will obviously vary from school to school and student to student.

But the most interesting aspects were what they miss, not being able to see friends/socialise was cited by about 2/3 of respondents, a similar number said missing playing sports. The biggest barriers to learning are lack of motivation and inability to focus, I’m sure in no small part down to both the peer aspect of learning (competing and sharing with class mates) and the focus a teacher brings, and many would like to see face to face online lessons, again, I’m sure to replicate the class room feel and to see their class mates. At least a third of my students also said lockdown has made their mental health at least a little worse. All of these are linked to the social rather than academic aspect schools bring.

When we do get back to the classroom, only when safe and only when practical, there may well be a rush to close gaps and fill in lost lessons of learning so we can prepare students for exams next Summer, which we all know will return. But we are going to have to first get students used to their surroundings again, remember how best to learn again, trust their teachers again, socialise with their friends, be welcomed back into a normal school society. They, like us would have just been through an extraordinary time in their lives, it will take time to get back to the norm, this shouldn’t be rushed and should be done right.

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Clarity needed on practicalities of reopening schools

I have read many articles and views on school reopenings, the when, the how, the who. We are all in unprecedented times and are all finding our way, I don’t think any of us know the correct answers or routes, and we may never know. But like with most things I think we should be honest, provide as much information as possible to people and crucially, be practical about what is possible. As a classroom teacher it is the practical on the ground steps that matter most but i fear will get least attention.

When the Government do provide further guidance on school reopenings later this week, clarity is needed. The Government have rightly asked heads for their views on the how and whom for schools reopening (not so much the when) but ultimately this is a Government decision, and after heads have been heard it is them who should decide. This is a national decision and should be made by national Government.

There also many other issues that need to be addressed, with clear information and instruction, not just vague get outs in the form of guidance. The NEU have their 5 years and the Government need to address many questions before we can safely open schools.

Such as:

– Which year groups will be in?

– How many hours will pupils be in?

– Is the expectation of a full curriculum or more like child care?

-For students not in, are teachers still expected to provide remote learning materials?

– What maximum class size can there be?

– What exactly are the social distancing expectations?

– Who or How will equipment be provided if this can’t be shared?

– What expectations will there be of parents picking up pupils to distance?

– If students can’t share equipment then PE equipment and Pc’s become a no go so class room space is diminished further.-

-At what level does staffing become too low to keep the school open?

– What happens if parents decide to keep their kids at home through health fears? Will central Government fine them?

Then there are a couple of crucial questions for the future:

– Are current year 5, 10 and 12 pupils expected to take their respective exams for next year having missed a big chunk of the course now?

– What will be expected of school budgets for next year?

I am not saying any of these things are easy to answer and it will be an evolving process but it’s clarity and information that is needed, not more jargon and sound bites. 

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Road resurfacing programme

This will understandably now be delayed due to the coronavirus crisis but the full list of roads and years they will be completed in Church Ward can be found  below. 

http://news.reading.gov.uk/first-100-roads-resurfaced-20/

Northumberland Avenue is not on the list as the structural issues it has require a separate pot of money from central Government that we are bidding for. I will be lobbying Reading East MP Matt Rodda and Reading West MP Alok Sharma for support as the road cuts through both constituencies.

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Garden waste collection to resume next week

READING Borough Council’s garden waste collection service will fully resume from Monday 27 April.

The service was temporarily suspended on 27 March to allow the Council to successfully focus on ensuring priority collections of household waste and recycling could continue, despite staff shortages due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The council’s swift redeployment and retraining of staff meant that a full service of household waste and recycling has been maintained throughout, and it is now able to include garden waste collections once again.

Garden waste subscriptions of residents who had already renewed will automatically be updated to start from 27 April for a full year, with no charges for the period that the service was suspended. Existing customers who have not yet renewed, and new customers, can sign up and pay for the service now online at www.reading.gov.uk/garden-waste.

With the service resuming next week after a month-long absence, residents are being urged to only present their garden waste for collection in the bins or bags provided, as the collection team are unable to take away excess waste placed beside the bins.

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Primary admissions round

More than 83% of parents got their first choice for their children’s primary school places in Reading this year, despite an increase in 160 applications compared to last year.

Brighter Futures for Children, which delivers education services in Reading, has made sure all primary school pupils in the borough have a place for September. Of these, 83.44% (1,753 pupils) got their first choice and just 3.33% (70 pupils) were offered a divert option.

The number of applications for places at Reading’s primary schools has increased, up from 1,882 in 2019 to 2,042 this year.

A total of 2,140 places were available on National Offer Day (16 April) in Reading primary schools. The remaining places (160) are held for late applications and transfers during the academic year.

For those who couldn’t be offer a place, a divert school has been offered. All divert schools are considered to be within a reasonable distance of the child’s home address. This accounts for 3% of applications.

It’s great to see more parents choosing Reading’s primary schools and over 95% getting one of their top 3 choices. Welcome to Green Park Village Academy as the newest member of our primary family here in Reading. 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to extend thanks to all of our schools in Reading for all that they’ve done to keep the children of key workers and vulnerable children safe and in school, keeping home learning going so well, and still managing to help us with the admissions process. We continue to be grateful for all education staff going above and beyond every day.


 

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WCDA voluntary work

Whitley Community Development Association (Whitley CDA) is involved with a number of community projects based in Whitley. They are a charity (Charity Number 1165275).

Whitley CDA has been supporting the people of Whitley for six years.

Now more than ever they need your help.

Whether you would like to donate funds for the food surplus project, the defibrillator project, the youth cafe or one of the others please let them know by email.

At the moment the priority is food surplus project and the vital delivery of food parcels to the elderly and vulnerable in Whitley. You can read about this here.

Together we are #TheBeatingHeartOfWhitley

If you are able to donate anything to help them continue their work please click on this link: https://whitley-cda.org/donate/

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