This is my personal wishlist as a teacher, Labour member and lead Councillor for Education for the Government to implement this year to help improve education in the UK.
Fund schools properly (or at least tell the truth on the lack of funding). Our schools have seen per pupil funding cuts of 8% since the Tories took power. Education spending as a % of GDP has fallen substantially, class sizes have risen and sixth form funding in particular has taken a hit. Yet still the Government denies it. A Motion at Full Council from us in October to write to Education Secretary Damian Hinds was not supported by a Tory colleagues. The UK statistics authority repeatedly told off Ministers this year for being less than real with the truth. If they are not willing to spend more on our children’s future, at least say it and justify why.
Pay teachers properly for their work. The school teachers review body recommended that ALL teachers should receive a 3.5% pay rise. Not just those starting out but those that are experienced and mid pay scale. It is these teachers that are mainly leaving the profession, those with a few years of experience and with time to seek a career change. The retention crisis will only worsen as teachers pay lags behind other graduate professions.
Ofsted reform. Last year Ofsted said that there will be a new focus on curriculum and less on overall exam success. The new quality of education judgment will supposedly mean that so called exam factories won’t get an automatic outstanding judgment. I cautiously welcome these changes. But wait to see them happen. Schools in tough areas with a tough intake on the whole do such a good job for our disadvantaged youngsters. This doesn’t mean they can’t do more but it does mean schools can’t fix all of societies ills. When these schools are rewarded for their work we can start believing the rhetoric.
SEN funding. There is undoubtedly a crisis in our education system for our youngsters with additional needs. Up to 4000 have no provision at all, demand is rising and needs are becoming more complex. This has seen tribunal appeals against councils rise and parent stress and anguish increase. High needs block spending (additional spending local authorities can transfer each year with schools approval to SEN funding) will soon no longer be able to be transferred from the main schools budgets. There is also an increasing number of SEN students going into private provision as the state is becoming less able to fund these places. A Tory ploy to privatise this part of education maybe?
Trust teachers. A long term project this. Teachers in the UK are the most observed, have the heaviest workload, receive less pay and less appreciation than almost any other country in the world. Finland is often held up as a beacon of world education where teachers are given freedom, responsibility, flexibility and are treated with respect and professionalism. This should be our aim in the UK. It would help end the recruitment and retention crisis, provide a better environment for our children and ultimately better outcomes. Finland also has the lowest wage inequality in the EU whilst the UK’s is highest. Our education system won’t be able to sort all of societies problems but it can make a good start.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
Ashley will be asking fellow Councillors to support his motion to write to Education Secretary Damian Hinds asking him to cease education funding cuts at October’s Full Council meeting. The motion can be found below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Local Authority recognises from Kendrick School a genuine desire to increase their admissions to the school for both Reading students and those eligible for Pupil Premium. The changing of their admissions criteria to encourage those eligible for Pupil Premium as well as those from specific postcodes is to be welcomed, as is their detailed plan for outreach work after negotiation with the authority that will open up opportunities for able girls from within Reading’s most disadvantaged areas.
However we are unable to offer our full backing to this proposed expansion. At a time when other schools are facing a per pupil funding cut of 8%, we believe that this additional funding should be helping all schools and all pupils. We would welcome a commitment from the school to fill all of the additional places available with Reading students eligible for Pupil Premium.
The school has demonstrated it’s willingness to co-operate and adapt to help meet the Council’s educational aims and we hope that this can continue.
Below is a link to Kendrick’s proposed expansion plans:
Ashley speaking to students at Blessed Hugh Farringdon school.
Since becoming lead Councillor for education in Reading two months ago, I have been trying to gather as many different views as possible. I have visited over ten schools already, spoken with various head teachers, Governors, parents, teachers unions and pupils. It will not come as a shock to hear they all want the same thing, the best education possible for pupils in the system now and in the future. Parties from all sides also identified very similar challenges schools are facing, these were namely funding (SEN funding in particular), capacity and places, and staff retention & recruitment.
There is always a lot going on in education and we are facing many challenges but we are planning accordingly.
School capacity: Reading will need greater capacity in secondary schools and we are in discussions with schools who can take the additional bulge classes needed before our new Secondary school will open in 2021. The school to be placed on Richfield Avenue will be a 6 form entry class that will initially open for just year 7 & increase year groups year by year. Our next step is recommending our preferred provider to run the school to best meet Reading’s needs. At Primary level, our expansion over previous years leaves us with enough capacity in most areas, however we are being pro active and working with school providers and planning to ensure new schools in Green Park Village and Dee Park have enough capacity for new housing developments. We also have plans to increase our capacity for SEN students with the first piece being the new base at Hugh Farringdon for students with autism. This model with different hubs across the town enabling students to stay closer to home and in Borough is both good for the students and the Council’s budgets, and is one the authority will be pressing ahead with.
School funding: Nationally per pupil funding has been cut by 8%. In Reading pupils will have lost an average of £283 per head whilst seeing class sizes rising. These cuts in funding are something a Labour Government would reverse. In October I plan to table a motion asking for all Councillors in Reading to support us writing a letter to Damian Hinds, the education Minister, asking him to reverse these cuts to the education budget. The new schools funding formula will be fully implemented in 2020, leaving the local authority with very little control over schools funding. But in the mean time, schools forum will endeavour to smooth out funding mismatches in its final year that will hopefully see no school left completely adrift.
Staff retention & recruitment: As a county we are facing yet another teacher recruitment and retention crisis, with fewer teachers in our schools now compared to 2014 with more pupils. In Reading the costs of living, housing in particular makes this an even bigger issue. Matt Rodda MP is pressing Ministers in Parliament on a key worker housing scheme and the local authority will be helping schools wherever it can to identify and train new teachers. I will be welcoming our newest teacher recruits who have passed their NQT year to the education fold at a ceremony this week. Next week the teachers pay body will make their recommendation on the level of teachers pay increase. After 8 years of real terms pay cuts, this must rise but so must schools budgets to accommodate this increase other wise we will see many schools pushed over the edge.
Schools across the country are facing many challenges in education & Reading is no different. As lead Councillor for education I want to hear as many views as possible and come up with the best solutions we can.
At this weeks planning committee meeting Councillors will discuss a proposed new 2 form entry primary school with associated playing space. The proposed school would be for 446 children, 26 nursery places and 60 per year group (2 classes). A breakfast and after school club is also planned and the planned opening will be the summer of 2019. The school will initially fill the nursery and reception classes with students increasing year by year as they progress through the school. With development increasing in the area from Worton Grange and Royal Elm Park, as well as Green Park Village, the Council is being proactive in providing sufficient school places and keeping school places as local as possible.
The school will be located at the corner of Longwater Avenue on what will be one of the main entrance routes to Green Park Village. The school will be two storeys consisting of three main accommodation blocks. The site will include a main hall and changing rooms, as well as a multi use games area and all weather playing pitch. It is considered that the main use of the school hall outside of lessons would be for the use of residents of Green Park for village events and meetings.
As with all new schools now, this school will be an academy but the Council is looking forward to working closely with the academy sponsors Reach2. This Multi academy trust already has active schools in Reading with Green Park Village school joining Ranikhet, Civitas and Palmer academy. The school are currently looking for a head teacher to begin working to make the school a welcome addition to Reading’s Primary schools. h
Kendrick school have recently announced plans to bid for capital investment from the Government’s selective school expansion fund to expand to become a four form entry school (128 places) from 2020.
As has been recently announced, Reading will have a new Secondary school on Richfield Avenue by 2021 to help accommodate our secondary needs. Kendrick’s proposed expansion will not impact upon the need for this school. The new school will provide 6 of the needed 8 forms of entry by this year.
At the moment the data indicates that Kendrick has 2.4% of Free School Meals students compared with an average for all Reading secondary schools of 12.6%, and for all Reading non selective schools of 15.7%. The percentage of students currently attending Kendrick who are not Reading students and travel into the borough to attend Kendrick is 74.7%. This compares to a figure of 28.1% across all Reading secondary schools and 15.4% of non selective secondary schools in Reading.
Initial discussions regarding the bid have been held between the school and the Council and these are on going. These discussions have been around whether any extension would directly benefit Reading students and also whether these would be focused on disadvantaged pupils. The school is aware of the local authority’s priority to improve provision for disadvantaged pupils in the borough and that there would potentially need to be some work done between Kendrick and primary disadvantaged pupils and their families to raise aspirations. No detailed plans or discussions have taken place around how Kendrick might undertake this.
The terms behind any direct bid to the DfE to access the additional funds for expansion of grammar school places is directly linked to improving access to disadvantaged pupils. Kendricks expansion document says “we propose to increase the number of disadvantaged students which we believe supports the LA & Governments aims to improve social mobility”, it goes on to say “Kendrick school would always seek to secure the support of the LA & work in collaboration to ensure the best possible outcomes for the young people of Reading”. Discussions will continue as to exactly how this will be achieved.
After the Council’s successful Primary expansion of recent years there is now a need for a new secondary school in Reading from 2021. This will eventually be a 900 place (6 form entry) secondary school which will open its year groups gradually so as not to impact on admissions at other local schools. At the beginning there will be no 6th form provision as the admissions data does not display a need in this area, however there will be space for this if needs arise in future.
After initial investigation of various sites, the Richfield Avenue site near Rivermead and the river Thames has been deemed by the Council and Councillors as the most appropriate for a new school. The land is not perfect and we are in discussions with Reading festival regarding the access they need but the site has many advantages. It is near where student need is highest, transport access is good and will be improved, leisure facilities are readily available and the space provides us with future room for expansion.
In terms of the running of the school the Local authority can only do so much. The new school has to be a free school as dictated by Government policy and so cannot be run by the Council. Bids will be made by academies and trusts to run the school. As a Council we will provide information to bidders and an endorsement of our preferred partner but the final decision lies with the DFE. Part of our criteria to be the Council’s preferred bidder will be the trusts ability to have a proven track record of getting excellent results that they have a history of working in collaboration with other schools and that they have a local reputation for providing excellent quality teaching.
Reading’s growth and success as a town means that we are in need of a new secondary school. We have have been proactive and made a good start in identifying an appropriate site, producing a selection framework for selecting an appropriate trust to run the school & in organising its funding. Councillors and officers will now work tirelessly to ensure that its doors open in September 2021.
More information will be available after the policy committee meeting on June 11th. http://www.reading.gov.uk/article/11423/Policy-Committee-11-JUN-2018
Bcoming the lead Councillor for education in Reading is a huge honour and privilege to take on. I want to thank the two previous incumbents of the post, John Ennis and Tony Jones. Their work has helped push Reading schools closer to our challenging targets for schools in Reading and on a personal level, both have helped me develop an understanding of the role.
I was educated in two of Reading’s primary schools and just over the border in West Berks for secondary school. I have been a teacher in a comprehensive school for ten years, where I have also served as the Union rep for over 5 years. Before this I worked at two very different schools as a teaching assistant, a learning support assistant and a cover teacher, which gave me an excellent grounding in how schools work. I have been an examiner at both GCSE and A level for nearly ten years. As well as this I have been a Governor at a primary school for 5 years, the last of those being as Chair of Governors. Since being elected in 2014, I have served on the ACE committee as vice-chair and been in attendance at the lead member briefings for Education.
The last few years have seen great changes in education both locally and nationally. Locally there has been a school expansion plan, the creation of the arm’s length children’s company, The Heights Primary School location as well as the changes in our SEN strategy and local offer. We are now also in the process of looking for a site for a new secondary school in Reading. Nationally there have been funding cuts, a recruitment and retention crisis, curriculum change and a range of new school types. As a Council we need to be there to offer schools help and advice when needed as well as providing our statutory services in providing a school place for every child.
Reading Borough Council has set some challenging goals in education over the next few years concerning Ofsted reports, student outcomes and progress. But I do not want these to be a top down straight jacket in which schools are told to work within. I see the Council’s role in education as one of facilitating, helping and advising schools, which we can only do with the help and communication from the Head teachers and staff at all of the schools across the borough. This includes our Free schools, Academies, Grammars and Local authority schools. I want the work between the Council and schools to be a conversation where we can provide what it is that schools want from us.
I am looking forward to the challenge of helping schools and education in Reading and want to meet as many of those involved as possible. That includes students, teachers, Governors, parents, trade unions and MP’s Matt Rodda and Alok Sharma. I look forward to hearing from and working with all involved.