Ash pearce - Labour Church Ward Councillor
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Education Updates from Reading’s schools

Education policy headlines and reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Thank a teacher day

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

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

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

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Schools reopening round up

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

BMA LETTER : The British Medical Association have written a letter backing the NEU’s 5 tests before schools can return.

Unions ask for more evidence: Teaching unions met with the Dfe to ask for them to release the science behind their decision to “reopen” on June 1st, this is yet to be done.

Some Council’s have said they won’t reopen on June 1st: Liverpool Council has been followed by a few others in saying they will defy Government advice and not open on June 1st.

NAHT say June 1st not feasible: Boss of head teachers union NAHT Paul Whiteman has said it won’t be possible to open schools as per Government plans at the start of June.

Dfe say absence a matter for heads: Whilst it has been confirmed parents will not be fined if they choose not to send pupils to school, the Dfe have said staff absence consequences are sown to heads.

LGA Call for Local authorities to have power to close schools if Covid cluster emerges:

Dfe say no pupil rotate: further guidance was released this week in which the Government said they don’t want totals (e.g. specific days in for year groups).

Children just as likely to contract Covid-19: Research released this week as well as ONS data claims young people are at least just as likely to get the virus as other age groups.

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New guidance on school opening

What we know:

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

Further Questions

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

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Students will need time

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

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

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

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

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Clarity needed on practicalities of reopening schools

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

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

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

Such as:

– Which year groups will be in?

– How many hours will pupils be in?

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

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

– What maximum class size can there be?

– What exactly are the social distancing expectations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Primary admissions round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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School closures

What the Government/Dfe have said:

As of Friday afternoon (March 20th) many schools across the country will officially close.

Some schools will remain open to children of key workers as safe spaces. This list includes workers from the NHS, the military, teachers and childcare, care homes, social workers, police, fire, prison officers, delivery drivers, supermarket workers, infrastructure, highways agency, environmental health and local authority planners. This list may be added too. Those with EHCPs, Children looked after and children with a social worker will also be able to attend school. The Government expects this to be around 10% of the usual school population. These schools will remain open over the usual Easter holiday.

A plan is currently being worked on for a national voucher system that can be used in supermarkets for those on free school meals to ensure no child goes hungry when away from school.

There will be no formal exams this Summer, this includes year 6 SATs, year 11 GCSEs and year 13 A-levels. There will also be no school league tables published this year.

The Government have said that how grades will be awarded will be announced tomorrow (20/3) and the aim is to award grades under a different process and system in August.

Universities have said students should not lose out on the chance to go to University this year.

Trainee teachers have been told that they will pass their teaching qualification year and provide support in the next couple of years.

Here in Reading

Please check your individual School website for the best and most up to date advice. You can also check for updates on the Dfe website and the Brighter Futures For Children website. These will have the best, most accurate and up to date website.

We have been working on and speaking with our schools to decide which will be open and available for key workers in the coming weeks, we will let everyone know as soon as we can which and where these are. It is a huge logistical challenge with many people working round the clock to sort.

Working at home

I know that many Schools and many teachers would have already been in contact regarding working from home. But please remember that teachers are humans too. We have our own families we may well now have to look after, relatives to provide for and may be fighting illness themselves. I’m sure you’re aware of how much time, effort, energy and passion your child’s teachers put in and will continue to do so. In many ways schools have not closed, they have adapted. We are all getting used to this and will evolve. I couldn’t be prouder or more grateful for how much work the school staff across Reading’s schools have put in this week. To every one of them, thank you so much.

The Government

These are unprecedented times, this is all new and many people are working flat out. I would urge the Government to act quickly to provide clarity, guidance and assurance on a range of school issues however. Head teachers have been amazing this week but they deserve more help.

A personal view

I’ve been a secondary school teacher for nearly 15 years and have never known a day like today. I looked round many times today with a tear in my eye to other staff I’ve worked with for a long long time, we’ve seen and experienced many things but this was tough. We had to tell both years 11 and 13 that all the work they’ve put in over the years will not have a definitive end point. That we don’t know how their grades will be awarded. That we don’t know how their University places will be decided. That we don’t know when or if they will be back in school. That their last day is either now it tomorrow when they expected it to be 2 months away. That we dont know when they will get their prom. I know all of our teachers have had to have these discussions with worried students from all year groups and how hard it is. I have found the day incredibly emotionally draining and when I left school just burst into tears.

Thank you

But wanted to end with another huge thank you. These are incredible times but luckily Reading is lucky to have incredible people running and working in our schools. We will adapt, we will provide and we will educate. It’s what we do best.

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More secondary school students get first choice school in admissions round

Today’s national allocation day for secondary school places sees more Reading parents getting the first choice for their children than last year. 72.6% of students got their first choice secondary school up by 8.6% from last year. With 11.8% getting their second choice and 5.85% getting their third choice, that means over 90% of our students were offered one of their top 3 choices. Of the students that will need to be diverted, most have been offered places in Reading schools.

These admissions show the faith Reading parents have in our schools with more parents than ever choosing to send their children to our schools. It also demonstrates the good pupil place planning and efficiency of the admissions team at Brighter Futures For Children. We would like to thank them for their hard work as well as all of the teams at our Secondary Schools.

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Lord Agnew writes positively about Reading’s schools

Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education Lord Agnew recently wrote to Brighter Futures for Children with some praise and recent statistics from our Schools.
The highlights included (Primary):

-Between 20010-2018, Reading created 4095 new primary School places. This was due to the successful expansion of many of our Primary Schools across the Borough who agreed to increase their capacity to cope with the increased level of Primary aged pupils, up 40% in the last decade.
-12,108 Reading primary School students attend a School rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted (86% of the total).
-96.4% of Primary School applicants received one of their top 3 School preferences, and we would always encourage parents to put down more than one choice on their child’s application.
-The Local Authority also has a good record on forecasting Primary pupil numbers. In terms of predicting Primary numbers a year ahead, numbers were just 2.5% higher than predicted, whilst over a 3 year prediction period this was out by 6.9%, with the highest outliers nationally being some LA’s predicting numbers 6.4% under and some predicting 13% over.

-Between 20010-2018, Reading created over 3000 new Secondary School places. This was done by the building of 2 new secondary schools in the Borough (with a third on the way) and some of our secondary’s agreeing to expand. This was to cope with a 64% increase in secondary pupil numbers in the last decade.
-85.1% of Secondary School applicants received one of their top 3 School preferences, and again, we would always encourage parents to put down more than one choice on their child’s application. Last year more Reading parents chose Reading schools than previous years.
-Our attainment 8 score at GCSE was 51 this year (up by 2 from last year), the % achieving 4+ including English and Maths was 65% (up 4% on last year) and the % achieving 5+ including English and Maths was 53% (up by 6%). The number of students achieving A-level grades A-E has increased. 98% of students gained A-E grades this year compared with 94% last year, an increase of 4%. With the number of young people achieving A*-C passes was 78% compared with 77% in 2018.
-The Local Authority also has a good record on forecasting Secondary pupil numbers also. In terms of predicting secondary numbers a year ahead, numbers were just 0.5% lower than predicted, whilst over a 3 year prediction period this was out by 7.4%, with the highest outliers nationally being some LA’s predicting numbers 5.3% under and some predicting nearly 15% over.

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Key stage 2 results

Reading’s score of 63% of pupils achieving the expected results in reading, writing and maths at KS2 puts us on a par with both E Sussex and W Sussex (which face very different challenges) in the South East. The national average is 65% and we continue to work with our primary schools to improve standards and achievements through our Schools Standards Service.

Of the 13,688 primary school pupils in Reading, 12,008 are in Outstanding or Good schools.

But we know we have work to do to get KS2 results up. The gap in results at KS2 between our schools and the national average is falling but there is still a gap. Whether locally maintained, Academies or Free schools these are the young people of Reading and all deserve the best start, so we need to find a way of working with our non LA schools to drive improvement. We will be bringing a report to the ACE committee in the Summer that details KS2 results and our plan across Reading Primary Schools to help achieve this.

Further up the school process, our schools results continue to impress. Our Progress 8 score, which measures progress from KS2 to KS4 is the ninth best in the South East (out of 20 local authorities) but the achievements of pupils in our secondary schools are above the national average, both in terms of GCSE and A Level results. In fact, Reading schools produced the top A level results in the country last year and our Attainment 8 score of 50.4% puts us as the fourth highest in the South East.

But none of this is in isolation. Our schools have seen 8% per pupil funding cuts since 2010. Fewer teachers, fewer Learning support assistants, fewer resources and bigger class sizes. Many of our students are also starting school at lower levels than a decade ago. Child poverty is higher, housing and jobs are often more insecure and pre school services have been cut to the bone. By the time our students leave KS2, and then when they leave the School system at KS4 or KS5, they are in a much better position than they started. That is thanks to the incredible work of our schools and teachers not the slash and burn policy of this Tory Government. 

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Schools climate change work

At Monday’s policy committee meeting i will respond to a question on eco schools. I would like to take the chance to talk more widely about the work our schools are doing to help meet the challenge of climate change.

There are 49 eco-schools in the borough, of which 28 have achieved the bronze award and 15 the silver award.

But as well as this there is a lot of work going on in our schools after a climate emergency was declared by the Council last year. 

There are 2 main branches of the work on this-in classrooms and out of classrooms. In classrooms, last November Brighter Futures for Children held their first ever climate emergency summit at Alfred Sutton School that was well attended by Schools across Reading. The aim of this is for every school in Reading to have at least one lead teacher for climate change. Once qualified, the teachers will be collectively tasked with helping pupils learn about the causes, extent and solutions to the climate issues facing the world today.

In December last year Reading Council also hosted a climate summit for students based on its UN equivalent. Here students debated how each country can cooperate to reduce carbon emissions, and proposed everyday actions that can make a difference in their own schools and wider school communities across the Reading area. On top of this I know that many schools have their own eco reps and have won individual prizes for their schools for green initiatives and raising awareness of climate issues, and many are also using the Clean Air Schools resources in classrooms that have been provided by Friends of the Earth. . All of these things help arm our young people with the knowledge and importance of the climate emergency going forward. 

We have also been doing our bit outside of the classroom. We recently undertook a heating and electrical review of our schools, approved at a policy committee meeting last year that will help improve the energy efficiency of our schools lowering both their costs and energy use. Our new secondary school to be located on Richfield Avenue will be built to BREEAM standards which gives third party certification of the assessment of an asset’s environmental, social and economic sustainability performance. 

We are encouraging Schools, local residents and ward Councillors to get into contact with us if they believe their area will benefit from the introduction of School streets, a campaign aimed at reducing danger and pollution around pick up and drop off times for students. Alongside these, we are encouraging our schools to review and update their travel plans to ensure that safety and sustainability are at the forefront of thinking when it comes to pupils getting to School. 

Lots of work has been undertaken already but we are aware there is lots still to do and look forward to meeting this challenge. “

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Phoenix college planning application

Phoenix college is a School for some of the most vulnerable young people in the Reading area. All pupils on roll are statemented and many have been permanently excluded from mainstream schools. Safeguarding is paramount for these students, even more so than in mainstream schools. When Phoenix moves site it is planned to have capacity for 64 students aged between 11-18 with social, emotional and mental health disorders. Currently the school has 43, male only, students on roll but the new school will also accept females.


The aim of the schools transport plan is to “encourage use of more sustainable models of travel to car use, to reduce car alone journeys to and from school to keep the impact of travel to school on the local community at a minimum”.

Cycle parking for 10 bikes will be provided for staff and visitors in the car park area. It is anticipated that students will, in the main, arrive by minibus or taxi. It could also be possible for more able students to use the bus to get to college. Many of the students will travel by transport provided by Reading Borough Council. School travel and sustainable travel is to be embedded in the curriculum and the school has already started a bikeability program with students.

In the 2018/19 school year, 3 students came to school by taxi, 3 dropped off by a parent, 6 cycled and the rest came by public transport. Parents of the students and staff will be provided with a simple survey to complete to gather general information about travel trends. A detailed transport plan will be available.

Local community and environment

The school will be available for the community in the evenings from 6pm-9pm Monday to Friday. Local football teams currently use the field on Saturday and new changing facilities will be provided to support this use. The far eastern end of the site will become an orchard/wildlife area creating a buffer zone between the school and its closest neighbours. There will be works to improve drainage of the playing field to reduce waterlogged pitches in the winter. There will be a new artificial turf pitch to replace the out dated tennis courts.

The relocation of this school gives us the chance to give some of Reading’s most vulnerable young people the facilities they deserve to start their lives.

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Ashley visits Reading Girls school

Ashley paid a visit to Reading Girls School on Northumberland Avenue this month alongside Whitley Councillor Rachel Eden. Educational issues including admissions and Ofsted were discussed with the Principal Jon Gargan. The school was this year the highest performing non selective school in Reading, being in the top 5% in the country for progress.

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High stakes testing motion

These tests are flawed and have a detrimental effect on students, teachers and parents. The stress, worry and anxiety add hugely to teacher’s workload, they worsen students experience and view of education whilst adding to mental health problem and add undue pressure to households as we’ve heard from fellow Councillors tonight. And for what end? All educational research points to regular LOW stakes testing being the key to raising pupil retention of knowledge and then attainment, not the extreme pressure testing that SAT’s provide. This is not to say that there doesn’t need to be some form of assessment of pupil performance, but this system needs to be a more flexible and more practical system that trusts and empowers teachers. At the moment, teachers are being forced to teach to the test when they could be doing so much more to enrich students lives with the opportunity’s education gives us. Virgin have recently said that they will no longer be looking at exam results when recruiting staff, this may be a bit further up the education timeline than SAT’s but echoes what Jeremy Corbyn recently said and I wholeheartedly agree with-“We need to prepare children for life, not just for exams”. The full motion is set out below.

This council believes that campaigning, by those who work in primary schools, parents and academics, to end the current high-stakes system of primary assessment should be welcomed, in particular the More Than A Score campaign.
Reading Borough Council resolves:
1) To express its support for campaigns against the current system of primary assessment from parents, Governors, Schools and teaching unions.
2) To call a meeting of all interested parties to discuss the council’s position on these matters and to coordinate a response.
3) To lobby the Secretary of State for Education to listen to the growing number of voices who are calling for the abolition of high-stakes testing in primary schools.
4) To offer support and guidance to schools within the area which adopt an alternative approach to assessment

Reading Borough Council welcomes the commitment of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party to abolish SATs and other high-stakes testing in primary schools.
It notes that:
1) Statutory testing in primary schools has increased since 2010 and is increasing further: by 2020, children will be tested in Reception (the Baseline Assessment), Year 1 (the Phonics Screening Check), Year 2 (SATs), Year 4 (the Multiplication Tables Check) and Year 6 (SATs).
2) The pressures of statutory assessment contribute to the crisis of teacher morale, workload, recruitment and retention.
3) Tests are focussed on the requirements of school accountability and league tables rather than on support for children’s learning.
4) The pressures of testing in primary schools have a detrimental effect on children’s mental health.
5) Educational research has demonstrated repeatedly that teaching to the test narrows the curriculum and the educational experience of children, focussing on labelling, learning how to pass a test but not learning.

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