Author Archives: Ashley Pearce

August events

  • Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 3rd August at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.
  • Canvassing– Councillors and activists will be out speaking to residents on Thursday 1st on Sycamore Road and Hazel Crescent (late afternoon), Saturday 10th in Staverton Road area & Ashburton Road (morning), Tuesday 6th on Monksbarn & the top of Cressingham Road & Thursday 8th on Winton & Brybur Roads (afternoon).
  • A-level & GCSE results days– students in South Reading attending JMA & Reading Girls as well as schools further afield will be receiving A-level results on Thursdays 15th with GCSE’s on Thursday 22nd. Good luck to all.
  • Disability Awareness day-Featuring local organisations supporting people with a long-term health condition and their carers, and showcasing activities including basic sign language training, hearing test, and hand massage and nail painting. Will be held on Wednesday 15th from 11am-3pm at The Oracle shopping centre.
  • NARA meeting- The Northcourt Avenue residents association is having its next meeting on Thursday 8th to discuss local issues. Venue the.
  • Ward issues: across the month Councillors will be working with the Council on issues affecting the ward including the travellers on Long Barn Lane, potential use of the land between Staverton Road & The Lawns flats, student behaviour concerns and various planning applications.
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Labour against private schools

I was recently contacted by the Independent Schools Council who were putting forward the merits of private education in response to the recent formation of the Labour against private schools group, below is my response:

Thanks for your recent correspondence advocating the contribution of independent schools to the UK. I am aware of the campaign Group “Labour against private schools” to which I believe you are referring. We are appreciative of the work of staff and teachers in all types of school that are educating our young people across Reading to provide them with as bright a future as possible.

The Labour party will create a National Education Service when it forms the next Government that will focus on “tackling structural, cultural and individual barriers which cause and perpetuate inequality”. As I am sure you are aware, around 7% of the UK population attend private schools but contribute 65% of UK judges, 49% of army officers and 29% of MP’s, as well as a disproportionate number of Oxbridge candidates. Labour’s current policy to help aid attainment and pay for free school meals for all school children, is to remove the VAT exemption on private school fees.

The proposed motion from Labour against private schools wishes to go further, to integrate all private schools into the state sector, including the withdrawal of charitable status, and to then democratically redistribute the educational institutions. This motion will be discussed at the parties’ conference later this year.

I have worked as a teacher in a comprehensive school for over a decade and hugely value the contribution they make to society. These schools are where the huge majority of our young people are educated and not selected based upon ability from a young age or their parents income. These school foster an environment of collaboration, fairness and equal value that the Labour party holds dear.

You discuss the economic contribution that independent schools make to the UK in terms of tax and GDP. Currently, independent school fees are averaging around £17,000 per year which are largely funded by parents of the children that attend your schools. If Independent schools were incorporated into a fully comprehensive system (as was undertaken in Finland), then this large sum of money could be used by parents in a range of other ways, contributing to the UK economy. In terms of tax, as an employee of a state school I am aware that funding for each individual secondary school student per year is around £4000, some way short of the £17,000 average charged in independent schools. To my knowledge the motion is not advocating getting rid of these schools as educational institutions but changing how they are run to reflect a fairer and modern society.

You say that “Independent schools provide excellence, capacity and innovation in our education system. Abolishing independent schools would fail to improve provision for state pupils. The state sector would face higher costs and bigger class sizes.” This is a somewhat debatable point. A recent policy exchange report showed that, while some private schools do a good job of educating children and young people, many do not. The value added scores of the top comprehensive schools at A-level and GCSE out do those from the independent sector, often with far fewer resources.

Under this Government our school pupils have seen an average funding cut of 8% per student whilst tax policies are still benefiting schools serving Britain’s richest. The Labour party’s vision is of a country that works for the many, not just the privileged few. This needs to start from how we educate our children, in a fair and equal way from the very start.
Yours sincerely

Ashley Pearce
Lead Cllr for Education

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Busy night for Education at July ACE meeting

There are several important papers at Monday’s Adult Children and Education committee from Education.

Firstly there will be a presentation from secondary head teachers from the WREN, Kendrick, Maiden Erlegh Reading and Cranbury college. Heads were asked in to the committee so that Councillors, Council officers, and the public become more aware of the work we are doing and needs to be done to ensure Education in Reading is the best it can be. This is part of what is hoped will be a more open approach between our schools and Brighter Futures for Children to make sure we are focusing on the key areas in education.

There will also be a paper highlighting the work and resources that are available to help our youngsters who are struggling with mental health. In the absence of a full Government strategy, we are taking the lead in how we can get help to those who need it. With issues such as anxiety, stress and depression alongside many others on the rise, students and parents need to know where help can be accessed. The many areas of good work includes being a trailblazer for mental health, our therapeutic thinking schools strategy and identifying early help by agencies working closer together.

There is also a paper on School place planning. Predicted ing how many students will be coming through the system is a notoriously tricky art. People move home, students come into Borough and and new homes are built. But this paper sets out the information we have and what we see happening to student numbers across age ranges. It identifies some of our challenges and what we are doing to meet these in terms of increasing school capacity in the coming years. Again, it is hoped that this is an honest appraisal of where we are and will help us communicate this to all school stakeholders.

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July events

  • Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 6th June at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.
  • Policy Committee meeting: Ashley will be present in his role as Lead member for education on Monday 15th July at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.
  • ACE committee meeting: Ashley and Ruth will be in attendance at the Adult, Children services and education committee meeting on Monday 1st July at 6.30pm at the Civic centre. There will be a presentation from local head teachers, a report on mental health work with young people and a report on pupil place planning.
  • Canvassing– Councillors and activists will be out speaking to residents on Thursday 25th on Hillbrow/Tamarisk (late afternoon), Saturday 27th on Highmead Close & Cherry Grove (morning) & Monday 29th on Ennerdale Road (morning).
  • NQT Celebration: Ashley will help congratulate newly qualified teachers at a celebratory event at The Civic centre on Wednesday 10th July at 4.30pm.
  • Whitley Wood fire station open day: Berkhire fire and rescue will be holding their annual open day including demos and a BBQ on Saturday 6th from 10am-4pm.
  • South Reading fun day- Councillors and activists will have a stall with games, prizes and competitions on Saturday July 13th, 12pm-3pm at John Madejski academy. As usual there will be many different stalls, free food and plenty for kids to do.
  • South Reading calendar: The latest version of the popular South Reading calendar with lots of dates for local events will be delivered to every household in the ward. If you have any feedback on this please contact us.
  • Children in Care film: A film made by youngsters and carers about their lives in Care will be screened on July 23rd at 6pm at Vue cinema.
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River Academy in Richfield Avenue to be run by Maiden Erlegh

Reading Council, Reading Labour and Brighter Futures for Children are delighted at the DFE’s decision to approve the new secondary school for Reading and that Maiden Erlegh trust will be the academy chain chosen to run the school.

The new school will increase secondary capacity in Reading as well as providing more choice for many parents with its central location. The school will be providing a rich and broad curriculum covering both academic and vocational routes.

Maiden Erlegh have a proven track record of running excellent schools locally as working well as with the local authority and in partnership with other schools.‎ We look forward to the school opening its doors to its first group of students.

More can be found out about the school here: http://www.maidenerleghtrust.org/page/?title=River+Academy+Project&pid=31

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Education Funding Crisis

There is a crisis in Education. Ours schools are being starved of cash from this Tory Government. Recently Michael Gove a Tory leadership candidate, promised an “extra” £1bn for education if he is selected as leader. This “extra” would not even come close to making up for all of the money this Government has already cut. The equivalent of someone burgling all of your belongings but then offering to hand back your alarm clock.

A recent briefing from the Local Government Association, which remember is a body made up of local Councillors from ALL parties set a damning picture for the education scene in the UK. Some of its key findings were:

“Schools will see a real terms cut of 4.6% in schools funding between 2015-2019”. This means less equipment for pupils, this means fewer teaching assistants, and this means fewer staff. This means our kids not getting the education they deserve. In Reading last year we passed a motion calling on Education Secretary Damian Hinds to at least halt these cuts, a motion shamefully not backed by our Tory colleagues. They need to answer, if they are not even willing to call for a halt to the cuts, what do they want? More severe cuts!?

“We remain concerned the National Funding Formula will not address the significant budgetary pressures schools are currently experiencing. The current local flexibility allowed under the soft implementation of the new NFF must continue beyond 2020”. At the moment Central Government funds schools from different pots of money in different ways. Some money goes directly to the schools and some to the local Council who can allocate to areas and schools in higher need. This will soon stop. Soon Councils will be by passed all together, leaving a Whitehall department making these decisions, taking all local accountability and over sight away. The new funding formula will also hit some areas much harder than others.

“Since 2014 the number of children and young people with Education Health and Care plans increased by 21.1% (or over 50,000). From 5.6% to 8.8%. The proportion of pupils with SEND who attend special schools has increased from 5.6% to 8.5%. Councils are particularly concerned about the proposed changes to high needs funding which will reduce Council and school flexibility”. Students with SEND have been hit the hardest by this Governments cuts. It is harder to get an EHCP, it is harder to find and see any specialist help and it is harder to get a suitable school place. Since 2010 all pupils have seen funding cuts of 8% per head but this figure more than doubles when we look at pupils with SEND. These students are also more likely to face exclusion. In Reading we are taking steps to increase capacity with The Avenue expanding, Blessed Hugh Faringdon opening its new ASC unit next month, we have approval for a new SEN school with a focus on helping our autistic students and 2 new Primary ASC units to open next year. But we are running just to stand still. The number of students that need help is rising but our funding is falling. We as a local authority are also not allowed by law to run and govern any of these new schools.

The Government’s Early intervention Grant has been cut by almost £60million since 2013 and is projected to drop by a further £183m by 2020”. Sure Start centres were one of the Labour Government’s greatest creations in my view. They were universal, helped those that needed it most at a time in a child’s development when it mattered most. They helped decrease inequality and boosted young people’s life chances. This Government’s destruction of these is a disgrace and shows what the Tory party really means, the party of inequality. It has no desire to help the many, just the few.

Since 2010 Council’s have created an extra 80,000 new school places. If we are to meet the demand for school places, councils should be given back the powers to open maintained schools”. Legally Councils MUST provide a school place for every child, and quite rightly. But we are unable to build and run new schools. If we need new school places or expansions, we must go to academy schools and ask them for help. What a strange system. It used to be that locally elected Councillors decided if a new school was needed, if, when and where it would be opened. That decision is now made from a faceless suit in Whitehall. No local accountability, no local democracy, no devolution. Surely local MP’s, Councillors and Governors would be better placed to do this?

Councils have an excellent track record in improving school, and should be given necessary powers to intervene and support schools”. It is a local Council’s job to maintain standards in ALL schools, but our powers are extremely limited in the case of academies. We can offer help, and have happily done so in many cases, but we have to wait to be invited in if a school requires help. It is down to the School and the regional schools commissioner (who for our area oversees all academies from Milton Keynes to Swindon) to check standards. One person for hundreds and hundreds of schools.

I am an Economics teacher and one of the greatest concepts in my subject is Opportunity Cost, basically consequences of choices. If I go to the Cinema one night I can’t go to the football on the same night. It is worth noting what this Government says we can afford: an income tax cut for millionaires, an inheritance tax cut for those lucky enough to inherit over £1m, a tax cut for the UK’s biggest companies, millions on the failure of Universal credit, billions on no deal Brexit preparations, even millions this week on a state visit from Donal Trump. Things we can’t afford according to them – adequately funding the education of our future. I know which I would prefer to happen.

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June events

  • Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 1st June at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.
  • Policy Committee meeting: Ashley will be present in his role as Lead member for education on Monday 10th June at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.
  • Labour party AGM: The annual General meeting of the Labour party in Reading takes place on Thursday 20th May at 8pm in the civic centre.
  • Church Ward Labour party meeting: members of the local party will be meeting to discuss issues & campaigning on Wednesday 19th June at 7.30pm at 103 Northcourt Avenue.
  • Full Council meeting: Church Ward Councillors will be in attendance at the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 25th June at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre.
  • Rading buses open day-the Council owned and run bus company, and winner of a string of national bus awards will be holding its annual open day on Sunday June 30th from 10am at Great Knollys street. Many stalls, food and behind the scenes tours are available.
  • South Reading calendar: The final preparation of the calendar update will take place this month. If you want any events added please contact Ashley.
  • New Directions visit: Ashley will visit Reading’s excellent adult education service based on Northumberland Avenue, speaking with the Head & teachers on Thursday 6th June at 1.30pm.
  • ABC to read AGM: Ashley will be delighted to attend the ABC to read AGM on Thursday 27th June at Waterside centre at 11am.
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Send the Government a message on school funding in Reading.

Schools in Reading are struggling with a £16.8m shortfall in funding since 2015.

44 out of 45 local schools have suffered Government cuts to per-pupil funding since 2015. I have visited over 35 of our schools in the last year and every Head teacher has discussed with me the impact school cuts are having. There are fewer teachers, bigger class sizes, redundancies, less equipment and fewer services for students. Our schools are at breaking point.

Sign the school network petition and join parents, heads and teachers in Reading to send a message to the Government. The following text will be sent to the Government with your signature:


We the undersigned call on you to reverse the cuts to schools in Reading.
44 schools in Reading have suffered Government cuts to per-pupil funding since 2015.
These cuts threaten the continued provision of high-quality education in our area. They are leading to class sizes going up, subjects being dropped from the curriculum and resources being cut back. Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are being hit especially hard, as funding shortfalls mean that vital specialist provision has had to be limited, despite rising need.
Parents are being sent begging letters to cover funding shortfalls as schools are finding it increasingly difficult to support their pupils as their budgets are slashed – councils would have lost out on 60p of every £1 of their funding between 2010 and 2020.
Children and young people only get one chance at school and we know that education cuts never heal. We call on you to take urgent action to reverse the cuts and invest in this and future generations of young people.


You can find the petition here:
https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/reverse-the-cuts-to-schools-in-reading?source=facebook&&fbclid=IwAR0bmsitDEpfb60t_w2g7Gu7of3aCjDNxhlqCbi_UqHj5tvZkB_72zjPLm4

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St.Patrick’s Hall appeal dismissed

The planning inspectorate today decided that the University of Readings appeal against the Council’s decision to turn down the planning application for the expansion of St.Patrick’s Hall on Northcourt Avenue would be dismissed. Residents including the Northcourt Avenue residents society have worked tirelessly on this appeal to show the strength of feeling amongst locals. The plans were too large, with too many students in a building that was too big. Residents are not against development however and would welcome dialogue with the council on any future development plans.

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University consulting local residents

Reading University want to hear the views of local residents regarding their place in the local community, and what they can do to help. The consultation is open until June 7th and can be found here:

https://reading.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/university-strategic-principles-consultation-ext

Councillor Pearce’s submission can be found below:

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All of Readings primary students offered a School place

Reading has made sure all primary school pupils in the borough have a place for September, with 87% (1,644 pupils) getting their first choice and only 1% (36 pupils) offered a divert option.

The number of applications for places at Reading’s primary schools has decreased but more parents have been allocated their first choice for their children than in previous years.
A total of 2,110 places were available on National Offer Day (16 April ) in Reading primary schools and there were 1,882 applications. This contrasts with the number of secondary school places applied for this year, which left schools oversubscribed, although places were still found for students.
Late applications have still to be processed.

In addition, there were 159 pupils who needed an infant to junior school transfer. Reading has only two schools for which this transfer is necessary. 99.37% of Reading residents’ on-time applications received their first preference. There were two pupils who were not offered a place at their preferred school but they are not attending an infant school. Late applications for these, too, still have to be processed.

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A World Without Ofsted

I listen the TES podcast every week and this one really struck a chord with me, entitled “A World without Ofsted”.
(https://www.tes.com/news/tes-fe-podcast-world-without-ofsted). I then saw the Get Reading headline “See how many Reading Schools are performing badly” and couldn’t help but equate the two.

Firstly, this is not to say we are complacent and that the Council, Brighter Futures for Children and all of Reading’s Schools do not seek improvement and realise that in some areas and some schools we need to do better. We have an education strategy launched last month alongside an SEN strategy that seeks improvement in our Schools.

Schools and teachers are quite possibly the most judged places and professions on earth. There is so much data to weigh up and compare. Base lines, SAT tests, GCSE progress 8, A level results and of course Ofsted. I teach at a School whose GCSE results and A-Level results in both attainment and progress have been in the top 5% of the country for the last couple of years and we received an Ofsted in that time. Not many schools get those recently so must have been an Outstanding judgement right? No. A Good due to an anomaly really, despite far better results on any measure compared to many other Schools with an Outstanding rating.

And that’s just one of the problems with Oftsed. Things they don’t really consider: numbers of SEN students. Many of these will make progress at different rates in their own way but Ofsted seem not to care. Exclusions. What if one school gets good results and outcomes but excludes many students that other local schools pick up? Not Ofsteds problem. Starting points, what if students have made great progress from their starting points but still don’t make Ofsteds floor standards? Still “failing” then. Funding. Not a mention in any Ofsted report I have ever read that funding per pupil has fallen 8% since 2010 or SEN funding by 16%. No mention of crowd funding or donations being sought from parents just to keep schools ruining. It’s almost as if Oftsed is an arm of Government and that criticism wouldn’t go down well? Deprivation. Ofsted does not mention or care about the area in which a School resides. Glasgow has a life expectancy about 15 years lower than Kensington, do we blame GP’s for this? No, but with Schools apparently there is no other contributing factor to educational outcomes than a School and its staff.

And then what? Ofsted give its “failing” rating and then provide on going support, expertise, finance and guidance. Well no. They say they will be back to judge again in a year and if an academy put you in contact with the hugely over stretched regional schools commissioner. The success of schools can be judged in many ways, and a good school may show it in many different ways. The best way to see and get a feel for a School as a prospective parent is to always pay a visit. Since becoming lead Councillor for education last summer I’ve visited nearly 40 of Readings schools that have obtained all Oftsed gradings. Each different, each working incredibly hard on diminished budgets and each deserving of greater credit that a two word Oftsed rating. It’s time to look beyond an outdated inspection regime.

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Reading Labour Councillors demand a halt to school cuts

Locally-elected council members from across the country have backed the campaign by the NEU’s Councillors Network, which is supported by education fair funding campaign group f40, in expressing concern about the desperate state of school funding in England and Wales.

They are urging Government to invest more money in schools in the Spending Review this year to help meet the huge funding crisis across education, which is resulting in growing budget deficits, cuts in teaching staff, a reduction in some subject areas, and a poorer education for children.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (2) states that schools have suffered a cut of 8 per cent per pupil since 2010. The Education Policy Institute (3) has said almost a third of all council-run secondary schools are now in deficit and, according to last year’s Kreston UK report (4), eight in ten academies are in deficit.

Campaign group f40, which started more than 20 years ago with the aim of influencing significant change in the way government allocated funding to local authorities and schools, threw its weight behind the NEU’s letter to Damian Hinds.

Cllr Ashley Pearce, lead member for Education said: “This situation cannot go on. Schools and colleges in Reading desperately need additional funding to ensure our children and young people get the education they deserve. Reading schools, have on average, lost £370 per pupil between 2015 and 2019 alone. There needs to be a reversal of cuts to school budgets since 2010, and for the funding of schools and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision to be of a level that ensures all children and young people get the education they deserve, regardless of where they live.” The full letter can be read below.

Dear Damian Hinds MP,

As councillors, we are writing to express our grave concerns over the Government’s ongoing cuts to school funding.

Our excellent state-funded schools have lost out in billions of pounds in funding since 2015. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has equated this to an 8 per cent real cut per pupil in real terms, since 2010. The funding crisis has become so overwhelming that according to the Education Policy Institute, almost a third of all council-run secondary schools are now in deficit, and eight in ten academies are in deficit according to last year’s Kreston UK report.

Many schools are now desperately overwhelmed, as more and more students are competing for fewer and fewer resources. Compounded by biting cuts to local council services, in addition to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, the current settlement is not tenable.
We demand that the Government address this funding crisis in its Spending Review by:
• Reversing the cuts to school funding since 2010.
• Giving our schools the funding they need.
• Funding Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision properly.

Our children only have one chance to go through the school system. By cutting funding to schools, the Government is failing them. It must change course urgently, and give our schools, education professionals and students the proper funding they need.

Your sincerely,

The Undersigned

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School parking ban

https://www.getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/should-schools-ban-parents-driving-16022926

Various schools from across the town have contacted us regarding issues with drop off and pick up congestion around their schools. However a full ban on cars and parking nearby schools may well create the unintended consequence of clogging up nearby roads as parents may well just park as near as they can. We are also aware that some parents and pupils live further away from their schools and that driving is the only suitable methods of transport.

In specific instances, parking measures such as double yellow lines or bollards to prevent pavement parking have been introduced for specific schools when the need has arisen. The Council already has a strategy to tackle air pollution as well as a campaign to stop cars idling. Each individual school also has its own transport plan that encourages pupils to walk or cycle to school wherever this is possible, which is of course also beneficial for pupils health. But if the need for greater action at any individual school is required, we would be happy to work with schools on this.

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April events

  • Councillor’s advice surgery: Church Ward Councillors will be available to discuss any issues with residents on Saturday 6th April at 10.30am-12pm at The Whitley Café.
  • Policy Committee meeting: Ashley will be present in his role as Lead member for education on Monday 8th April at 6.30pm at the Civic Centre. One of the items on the agenda is Brighter Futures for children, the Council’s new children’s company.
  • ACE committee meeting: Ashley and Ruth will be in attendance at the Adult, Children services and education committee meeting on Thursday 4th at 6.30pm at the Civic centre. The Council’s Special Educational Needs strategy and a Fair workload charter for teachers will be discussed by Ashley as lead member for education.
  • Visit to Blagdon nursery: Ashley will visit the Council maintained nursery to discuss funding and future plans with the Head on Wednesday 3rd April.
  • 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 across the month.
  • Canvassing– Councillors and activists will be out speaking to residents on Monday 8th on Foxhays Road (afternoon), Tuesday 9th on Linden Road (afternoon), Thursday 18th on Barnsdale Road (afternoon), Saturday 20th on Alandale and Wentworth (morning), Wednesday 24th on Hartland Road (evening), Saturday 27th on Winton Road & Brybur Close (morning) and Cressingham Road on Tuesday 30th (evening).
  • Ward walk: Councillors will spend the afternoon of Sunday 21st March walking all areas of the ward checking for fly tipping, parking issues and the general upkeep of the area. Please stop to speak to us if you see people wearing rosettes!
  • New Directions visit: Ashley will be visiting South Reading’s excellent adult education service to speak with staff and see it in action on Wednesday 24th April at 7pm.
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Reading to get new SEN School

Reading Council learned today that they have been successful in their bid, made jointly with West Berks and Wokingham Councils, for a new SEN free school that aims to open its doors in 2022.

The School will have a capacity for 150 students that will be shared amongst the 3 local authorities. The school will welcome students on the autistic spectrum as well as students with SEMH (social emotional and mental health) needs.

The exact location is to be confirmed but it is planned that the school will be in Reading of the 3 local authorities.

In terms of running the new school, an engagement event will be organised to provide information on bidding. Those trusts who wish to bid to run the school will be invited once the specification is complete. This will then likely involve interviews before the Regional Schools Commissioner selects the trust that will sponsor the school.

This new school forms part of our wider SEN strategy to provide more suitable spaces for Reading’s youngsters in Reading schools.

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