Author Archives: Ashley Pearce

St.Patrick’s Hall appeal submission

I have been a Councillor for Church Ward in which St.Patricks hall resides since 2014, so have had a lot of contact with residents, the Council, Matt Rodda MP, the University and UPP (the developers) for both the 2016 planning application and the 2018 application. This has taken the form of me being on the planning committee both times this went to committee, resident meetings as well as meetings with the University. This issue has also come up when speaking to residents on numerous occasions and is something many residents understandably feel very strongly about. I am also a former student and resident of the University, so understand its needs and want to see a strong, thriving University in Reading.


The original application gained a lot of publicity regarding the demolition of the historic Pearson’s Court site. This lead to lots of local (and some national) publicity, a petition that gained over 1000 signatures and eventually the local listing of the hall and the application being pulled by the University. This was the first time that it appeared the University (or more to the point UPP, whom they have commissioned out these services to) were in a rush to get the application through with little thought on the impact it would have on the local community.
I have had many discussions with local residents on the issue of the St.Pats hall expansion, not just the Northcourt Avenue residents association (NARA) but other residents of the street as well as other nearby streets such as Ennerdale Road, Stanhope Road and Weardale Close. Nearly every one of the residents I have spoken too are not against redeveloping this site. They realise the current facilities are tired and worn, and that students deserve better, more modern facilities. They also value the benefit of a thriving University, with many residents being ex or current employees of the University.


The main issues that have come up time and again are the lack of real engagement with the local public, that the current plans are an overdevelopment and that the planned building would be over bearing on the local streets. Resident meetings and exhibitions that the University have held, have taken the form of presenting a finished proposal. Any semblance of consultation has been lost on the residents. Changes that were made to the application were very minimal and never addressed residents overall concerns. This has always been the height and over bearing nature of the proposed site, and the large increase in the number of students in a predominantly residential area. The University and UPP would have gained public approval and support long ago, if only they had agreed that the height and storeys of these buildings were lower (4 storeys as on the other side of the University in Wokingham borough has been mentioned many times by residents) and that the number of students would be lower than the high figure sought. The residents have already been patient and supportive of the University in recent years, despite an increase in noise and sometimes anti-social behaviour, as well as huge strain being placed on local parking, to which the University have never attempted to come up with a credible plan to solve or even engage the issue. It has recently taken the University well over 6 months to respond calls from residents and Councillors for a public meeting regarding the behaviour of a minority of their students and the negative local impacts they are having. Sadly this is common in the Universities poor approach to engaging with the local community.

Lastly, whilst within the law, the application coming into the Council from the UPP rather than the University so as to swerve Community Infrastructure Levy payments was incredibly disappointing. This increase in student numbers will obviously put a great strain on local infrastructure and with Council budgets being so tight, this cannot be met by the Council. This may in some cases even lead to dangerous situations for students in terms of local road safety. Northcourt Avenue were the hall is located, runs parallel to Shinfield Road where the main Whiteknights entrance is. At the moment the nearest crossing is at a busy inter section of road and traffic lights near a parade of shops. This area is already a tricky intersection of road to navigate, and the huge increase in student numbers proposed will not help this. This will also cause pinch points at particular times of the day with schools and the hospital being close to this area. If the University wished to be a real contributing member of our community, it would be offering proposals to ensure the safety of its students and working with the local community and Council on this, not running away from their responsibilities. It sadly shows again that the University currently sees itself as separate to the local Council and community, rather than being an important partner alongside them.


The character and history of Northcourt Avenue is something the residents are rightly very proud of, and this includes the history and heritage of St.Patricks hall. The local listing of Pearson’s Court confirmed the special place it has in resident’s hearts. This planning application more than any other issue I have encountered since being on the Council, has fostered the most local concern. Not because the residents do not want development or a successful University but because they seek consideration from our University partners. The residents, Councillors and the Council would like to work with the University on an equal footing to come up with a suitable proposal that enables the University to grow and thrive, that protects the heritage of the local area, ensures safety and comfort for local infrastructure, and that is not over bearing for the rest of the local community. I do not believe the current proposals achieves these things but still believe if the University wanted too, that it could.

This entry was posted in Ward News on by .

January events

Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 5th January at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.

Calendar delivery: Copies of the latest edition of our popular South Reading calendar, with events from January to June will be delivered to households across the Ward by our Councillors & volunteers at the start of the month. This can be viewed under the News section of this site.

Church Ward Labour party meeting: members of the local party will be meeting to discuss issues & campaigning on Monday 28th January at 7.30pm at 103 Northcourt Avenue.

Canvassing: Councillors and activists will be out meeting residents to discuss concerns on Monday 28th January at 6pm on Northcourt Avenue and Tuesday 29th January at 5pm on Shinfield Road.

Full Council meeting: Church Ward Councillors will be in attendance at the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 22nd January at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.

Policy Committee meeting: Ashley will be present in his role as Lead member for education on Monday 14th January at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.

Schools Forum: Ashley will be in attendance to hear concerns from school head teachers on Thursday 17th January at 5pm at the Civic Centre.

Governors briefing: Ashley will be meeting with School Governors from across the Borough to update on education issues on Tuesday 15th January from 6pm at The Avenue School.

Reading Girls School visit: Ashley will be visiting Reading Girls School on Northumberland Avenue to speak with the Head and meet students on Thursday 17th January at 2pm.

University of Reading community meeting: Local Councillors and residents will be meeting representatives from Reading University to discuss concerns that have arisen. The meeting will take place on Tuesday 29th January at 6.30pm in the Chancellors building.


This entry was posted in Events on by .

ACE Committee to report on education standards in Reading

At this week’s ACE meeting the latest figures on Reading schools standards will be discussed. There is a mixed picture for Reading schools but a clear path of how we will improve. Reading has a very mixed school economy, with selective schools, Academies, Free schools, Council maintained, and technical colleges. As well as this, the small geographical nature of our Borough means nearly 10% of our primary age students are educated under other authorities, and nearly 30% of our Secondary age students. This is similar of students coming into the Borough.

At Key stage one for those having just started schooling, phonics is improving, Reading is secure, writing is lower than expected and Maths is at the national average. Our new education strategy will have a focus on writing for primary schools and facilitating peer working between schools to raise these outcomes. At Key stage 2 student results are increasing but not quite keeping pace with the increase in national results. This picture is still mixed as our schools do well with students exceeding expectations and our Council maintained schools do better than our Academies. Our strategy sets out closer working with the regional schools commissioner to help with this.

At Key stage 4 and 5, our schools progress scores are good and above national averages. With A levels in particular the towns outcomes are outstanding. But the picture here is also still mixed. Our disadvantaged students achievements are too low (another focus of our new strategy) and our selective schools schools are attended by just 24% of Reading pupils, but both Kendrick and Reading boys are making positive moves to increase these numbers.

The mixed nature of who runs our schools is getting more complicated every year. This is making monitoring our schools more difficult every year. But our new education strategy will take steps to prioritise and inform our education provision to help all Reading students achieve the best they can with the one chance at education they get.

The full report is available to read on the Council’s website.

This entry was posted in Education on by .

School cuts petition

At October’s Full Council meeting I put forward a motion to write to Education Secretary Damian Hinds to stop the crippling funding cuts our schools in Reading are facing. Sadly this was not supported by our Conservative colleagues. We want as many people as possible to sign our petition to get them to join us in campaigning for fair funding for our schools and our students futures. The link can be found below:

Stop school cuts petition

This entry was posted in Education on by .

Education discussion at December Labour All members meeting

On Thursday December 13th at the Civic Centre at 7pm the Labour parties all members meeting will take place (where any local Labour member can attend). At this meeting I will give a brief presentation regarding educational issues nationally and locally. Nationally this will include recruitment & retention, curriculum change and workload whilst locally it will include increasing school capacity, our SEND strategy and school improvement strategy. There will also be a chance to ask questions regarding education in Reading. To be able to give fuller answers emailing any questions ahead would be appreciated. 

Please email: Ashley.Pearce@Reading.gov.uk

 

This entry was posted in Education on by .

December events

  • Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 1st December at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.
  • Calendar delivery: Copies of the latest edition of our popular South Reading calendar, with events from January to June will be delivered to households across the Ward by our Councillors & volunteers at the end of the month. This can be viewed under the News section of this site.
  • ACE committee meeting: Ashley and Ruth will be in attendance at the Adult, Children services and education committee meeting on Tuesday 12th December at 6.30pm at the Civic centre. Education standards will be discussed by Ashley as lead member for education.
  • Church Ward Labour party meeting: members of the local party will be meeting to discuss issues & campaigning on Monday 3rd December at 7pm at 103 Northcourt Avenue.
  • Carols by candlelight: Ashley will be attending local homeless charity Launchpads Carol service at Minster church on Thursday 6th December at 7pm.
  • St.Barbarus Christmas Service: The annual Christmas Service at St.Barnabus will be attended by Ashley on Sunday December 9th at 6pm at the Church on Elm Road.
  • Labour All Members Meeting: Ashley will be giving a short presentation and answering any questions regarding education issues at Labour’s AMM meeting at the Civic service on Thursday December 13th at the Civic Centre.
  • Head teachers meeting: Ashley will be meeting with head teachers from across the town on Thursday December 6th at 9.30am at John Madejski Acadmey to discuss education provision in Reading.
This entry was posted in Events on by .

November events

  • Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 3rd November at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.
  • Canvassing; Councillors and activists will be out meeting residents to discuss concerns on Saturday 24th November at 11am on Wentworth Avenue and Alandale Close as well as on Thursday 29th November at 5.30pm on Brybur Close.
  • Newsletter delivery: The final copies of the latest edition of the Church Ward Labour Rose newsletter will be delivered to households across the Ward by our Councillors & volunteers. This can be viewed under the News section of this site.
  • Remembrance service– Church Ward Councillors will pay their respects on the morning of Sunday 11th at St Mary’s Butts before a march through town.
  • Calendar collating: The South Reading calendar running from January to June is currently being collated. If you have any events for that period that you would like included, please email ashleypearce84@yahoo.co.uk
  • Redlands Labour fundraiser: Church Ward Councillors will be present to help colleagues in Redlands for the Fish & Chip fundraiser and Quiz on Friday 23rd November at St.Luke’s Hall at 7.30pm.
  • Policy Committee meeting: Ashley will be present in his role as Lead member for education on Monday 26th November at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.
This entry was posted in Events on by .

St. Patrick’s Hall appeal has a date

Local Councillors and MP Matt Rodda will be backing residents in the appeal.

The week beginning 19th March 2019 has been set as the date that the University of Reading will see its appeal against the rejection of St.Patrick’s Hall heard.
Reading Borough Councils planning committee rejected the plans back in February due to it being an inappropriate development along the lines of height, mass and impact on heritage. The Council will be sticking by its original decision and hope that the University will work with residents and come back with a more appropriate plan. Councillors have been working with local residents group Northcourt Avenue Residents Association on the detailed appeal plan and Ashley will be present at the appeal to help make the case for sticking with the original rejection of the plans. 
This entry was posted in Ward News on by .

Councillors decide priorities after CIL consultation

After the recent consultation regarding how the local element of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) would be spent in the Ward, Councillors have listened to residents and agreed on their priorities. The consultation saw nearly 100 respondents in the area vote for key improvements to the local community. The top 2 within Church Ward were to implement a zebra crossing at the top of Whitley Wood Road and to implement a 20mph zone on Northumberland Avenue by Reading Girls School. Both of these proposals will help keep our youngsters safe on their way to School and hopefully act as a natural speed calming measure. Also proposed just outside the Ward but very beneficial to residents are improvements to the Whitley Health Centre as well as the play area at Cintra Park. Despite savage cuts to the Council’s budget year on year, Church Ward Councillors are listening and implementing policies to help residents.

 

This entry was posted in Ward News on by .

Consultation Starts on School Admission Scheme & Policy

CHANGES to the Council’s school admissions arrangements are the subject of an eight-week public consultation which started this week.

The consultation is a result of the Council reviewing both its Co-ordinated Admissions Scheme for Primary, Infant, Junior and Secondary Schools for the 2020/21 academic year and Admissions Policy for Infant, Junior and Primary Schools 2020/21.

Parents, schools, governing bodies and any other interested parties are invited to take part in the consultation which can be found on the Reading Borough Council website at: www.reading.gov.uk/schooladmissions2020

The School Admissions Code requires all relevant authorities to consult on their admission arrangements at least every seven years and Reading is now due to undertake this process. The Council has taken the opportunity to review some areas and is now keen to receive feedback. Some of the changes are concerned with validating applications, late applications, disputes between parents and sibling protection. Respondents are invited to answer the survey questions on one, two or all three revised documents.

Cllr Ashley Pearce, Lead Councillor for Education, said:

“Admissions schemes and policies are in place to ensure the Council has a fair, structured and transparent way of operating the admissions process.

“Councils with admissions responsibilities have to consult on their arrangements at least every seven years and Reading is now due to do so. We have taken the opportunity to review our admissions procedures and we are now inviting people to comment on the proposed changes.”

The School Admission Co-ordinated Scheme & Policy 2020/2021 Consultation can be found at www.reading.gov.uk/schooladmissions2020and the deadline for responses is 9th December 2018.

This entry was posted in Education on by .

Education funding cuts

At this months Full Council meeting I will be asking my fellow Councillors to support a motion to write to Education Minister Damian Hinds to ask to halt the Government’s funding cuts in education. But according to the Government these cuts don’t even exist. The parrot like line from the Government of “Record spending in education” was joined this week by “the UK is the 3rd highest spender of education in the world” after an OECD report was released. So all must be rosy in the education world then?

So why did 2000 head teachers recently march on Downing Street to protest about funding cuts? Why does the Institute of Fiscal studies say per pupil funding has been cut by 8% since 2010? Why does the National Education Union say 88% of schools face cuts between 2016-2020? Why does the School Cuts website say that here in Reading we will lose £281 per pupil? And why does every Head Teacher I meet, at every type of school raise funding as an issue?
Firstly the almost laughable misuse of statistics for “Record funding” claims. More money is going into schools than ever before because we have more students. Its that simple. Only PER PUPIL funding should be considered. When this is added to the fact that fully deserved (and not to the level even recommended by the teachers pay review body) teachers pay increases have not been funded, NI & Pension contributions have risen and general inflation is added, budgets have been hit hard. Much like local Councils, the “efficiency savings” are gone, only bone is left to cut. This means larger class sizes, fewer teachers, bigger workloads, less subject choice and less outside help for our children, especially the most vulnerable.
What of the OECD report? It did indeed say the UK is the 3rd highest spender on education in the world. But that’s the UK not the UK Government and education is not just schools. So it actually included private spending on education, including private school fees of thousands of pounds a year which only the wealthiest in society can afford. And it also included tuition fees spending of £9250 a year , which the report also pointed out where the highest in the world. This is not the glowing endorsement the Government would like us to believe. The OECD report also said teachers salaries have fallen in real terms, that early years funding is severely lagging and that as a share of GDP education funding has fallen.
The Tories in Government have never valued education and many never will. Former education Secretary Justine Greening said last week “It (the treasury) doesn’t have a framework for properly valuing investment in people whether it’s health or education. Instead it’s always been seen as a cost and the treasury likes to manage costs down”. Education is not a cost but an investment, it needs to be properly funded and our Heads and schools need to be listened too before it’s too late.

 

This entry was posted in Education on by .

October events

ACE committee meeting: Ashley and Ruth will be in attendance at the Adult, Children services and education committee meeting on Thursday 4th October at 6.30pm at the Civic centre. Ashley will be presenting the new teachers Fair workload charter for teachers in Reading. 

Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 6th October at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.

Canvassing; Councillors and activists will be out meeting residents to discuss concerns on Saturday 6th October at 11am on Birdhill Avenue and Sunday 7th October at 11am on Windemere Road & Barnsdale Road.

Full Council meeting: Church Ward Councillors will be in attendance at the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 16th October at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre. Ashley will be forwarding a motion regarding education cuts that can be found under Education on this site.

Newsletter delivery: The latest edition of the Church Ward Labour Rose newsletter will be delivered to every household across the Ward by our Councillors & volunteers. This can be viewed under the News section of this site.

This entry was posted in Events on by .

The accountability of Academy Schools

This week’s BBC Panorama programme focused on Academy schools in Britain. I am not going to be critiscing Academy schools as the huge majority are governed and run by hard working people seeking the best for the students that come through their doors.

It does give an opportunity to explain their relationship with the local Council however. Councils used to be able to open and run their own schools, this ended with the Tory Government in 2010. Academies are able to appoint their own Governors, set their own curriculum and admissions criteria with little oversight from the local Council. It is our job to monitor them and ask questions, but if something is not right, we have very little power to intervene. For academies, this is the role of the regional schools commissioner.

The commissioner for Reading is the South East commissioner whose role stretches from Milton Keynes to West Berks with all the academies in between. This encompasses hundreds of schools across a huge geographical area. I am not saying the old local authority system was perfect but a degree of local knowledge and democratic accountability has now been lost with the expansion of the Acadamies programme which has left our school system more open to manipulation as the programme explained.

This entry was posted in Education on by .

Impressive GCSE results for Reading’s pupils

Pupils in Reading have performed well in the face of further changes to this year’s GCSE examinations, with tougher exams and now no coursework elements being applicable. Provisional figures from schools in the borough show that 62% of GCSE pupils achieved grades 9 – 4 in English and Maths (broadly the same as the old A*-C measure), matching last year’s figure. 

The number achieving the higher 9 – 5 grades, similar to A* – bottom B/high C, was 48 per cent compared with 50 per cent last year.
Initial figures show an increase in the percentage of students achieving Ebacc subject qualifications from 28 per cent in 2017 to 30 per cent. Attainment 8 scores which measure student progress were similar with 49.35 this year compared with 49.60 last year.
Congratulations to all the students who have worked so hard to attain these results and to their teachers for their commitment and dedication.
Behind these statistics are stories of individual effort and achievement and I’d like to wish every student future success in their chosen paths.

This entry was posted in Education on by .

A-level results in Reading

Last Thursday saw hundreds of students, their families and their teachers receive their A level results. This one grade on a sheet of paper is often seen as the culmination of 15 years of education in schools. Students should be rightly proud of the results they achieved. Exams are stressful, difficult and require hard work over a number of years to pass. But as a teacher of many years I have seen many factors out of students hands that can effect performance. Nerves and stress on the day, the questions that come up, the examiner that marks it and grade boundaries all play a part. If students didn’t get the results they wanted, there are still many opportunities and many avenues to go down. It’s the beginning not the end.

In Reading we had nearly 700 students taking A level exams in our schools, more than last year. But we cannot forget that as a small authority, many of our students that live in the Borough go to schools on the outskirts and vice versa. West Berkshire and Wokingham schools will also educate many of our young people. In terms of percentages, there was a slight increase in those students achieving the top end marks and a slight dip in those achieving a pass. Every one of our schools, is striving year on year for improvements in exam performance against the backdrop of lower funding from central Governemt and a difficult recruitment arena. Overall, students across Reading continue to achieve excellent results in their A level exams, with increases in the top grades achieved across many of our schools, alongside more pupils sitting these tougher exams. 

Every students succesful result is the culmination of years of hard work from themselves, their teachers and their parents. Everyone involved is a vital part of the school system and each should be congratulated. Overall results and percentages tend to be looked at on days like this, but it is the importance of these results to each individual student that really counts and the difference they can make to these young people’s lives.

This entry was posted in Education on by .

September events

  • Councillors surgery: Ward Councillors and the Whitley area PCSO will be at The Whitley Cafe on Saturday 1st September from 10.30am-12pm. Please come along and discuss any local issues.
  • Church Ward Labour party meeting: members of the local party will be meeting to discuss issues & campaigning on Tuesday 18th September at 7pm at 103 Northcourt Avenue.
  • Ridgeway Governors meeting: Ashley will be discussing the schools new year in his last meeting as Chair of Governors on Wednesday 26th September at 7pm at Ridgeway.
  • Canvassing: Ashley, Paul and Ruth will be out in the ward to discuss the local area and any issues on Saturday 22nd at 11am on Foxhays Road, Tuesday 18th at 5.30pm on Hazel Crescent & Sycamore Road and Wednesday 26th at 5.30pm on Rushden Drive & Hollydale.
  • I, Daniel Blake at Reading Film Theatre: The RFT will be showing Ken Loach’s film about someone living life on Universal Credit on Thursday 13th September starting at 7.30pm.
  • Policy Committee meeting: Ashley will be present in his role as Lead member for education on Monday 24th September at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.
  • Governors briefing: Ashley will be speaking with Governors from across the town at The Avenue School on Tuesday 11th September at 6.30pm.
This entry was posted in Events on by .

SEN provision in Reading

The 2014 Childrens and Families Act made it law that special educational needs provision must be constantly under review. This means that we are always looking at ways to improve the education provision for our youngsters with additional needs all the time. Here in Reading around 15% of our school students have some form of special educational need with around 3% having an EHCP (Educational health and care plan), that identify and tailor support to students with additional funding.

Reading Council has been working with Reading Families Forum (parents of pupils with SEN) and Special United (some of our young people with SEN) to help shape the future provision in Reading as best we can to help meet young people’s needs. Some of our main priorities and projects over the next year include:

  • Improve early identification of need within our youngsters. In 2017/18 the Council turned 401 statements into EHCPs which was a vast improvement on the 463 in the previous 3 years and was praised by Ofsted. It is vital we work with schools, nurseries, GPs and pre schools to identify as early as possible the needs of our students.
  • Extending The Base for students with autism at Blessed Hugh Farringdon. This will involve a new building being built that will increase capacity from 15 to 30 students. This will mean more students being able to stay in mainstream provision within the Borough.
  • At Primary level we are looking at replicating the Ark centre for primary students with autism in two other schools across town. The Ark caters for 21 students at Christ the King in South Reading, and we will be looking to replicate this in a school in the north and the west of the town. This will increase capacity and cut down on these students having to travel across town. These schools will then be able to provide expert outreach to other schools to help improve provision.
  • The Avenue school is in the process of applying to extend an area of the school to provide additional spaces for 25 students with differing needs.
  • Phoenix College which provides education for students with SEMH (Social, Emotional, and Mental Health) needs is currently based at an outdated building on Christchurch Road. We are actively looking at sites for a new modern facility at a different site in Reading. This will provide a better learning environment for students in the future.

These improvements are against the back drop of Government cutting funding per pupils by 8% and our SEN youngsters often suffer worse than this.
This week there is a Disability Awareness Fun day at The Weller Centre in Caversham. The day runs from 11a.m.-2pm and is a great way to learn more.

This entry was posted in Education on by .