Ash pearce - Labour Church Ward Councillor
Church's Labour Team, led by our Councillor Ashley Pearce

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Education

Education Updates from Reading’s schools

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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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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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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More parents choose Reading Schools

Every Reading student has been allocated a secondary school place this year, despite higher pupil numbers than ever before.


This year, Reading schools have been more popular than ever, with a greater number of residents choosing schools in the Borough than schools outside it.
Reading Girls has increased in popularity this year and the WREN School, Highdown School and Maiden Erlegh, Reading all continue to be popular choices.

First preference offers stand at 64% this year, compared to 66% in 2018. The number of students not allocated any of their preferences decreased slightly from 12.58% last year to 12.28% this year.
On National Offer Day there were no surplus places in Reading schools this year, compared to 85 on offer day in 2018, 221 in 2017 and 274 in 2016.

A shortage of spaces and our statutory duty to provide every child who had an on-time application with a school place on National Offer Day meant we had to ask a number of schools to either to take an additional class or additional children per class.  

Extra classes have gone in at Highdown School, The Wren School and Blessed Hugh Faringdon Catholic School. Maiden Erlegh in Reading has taken an additional 12 students.

The percentage of pupils allocated to schools outside Reading fell to 26.44% this year from as high as 34.78% in 2016.

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Education Strategy for Reading

At this months ACE committee the Council and Brighter Futures for Children will be setting out our priorities for Education in Reading. The document will be a living document that will evolve and grow. The strategy has 7 main strands with our focus being on lowering the rate of exclusions, increasing capacity for our SEN students and closing the attainment gap with our pupils.

We have some excellent provision, great teachers, hard working staff and Governors across our schools in Reading, but we also realise there are areas we can improve. Resources are tight as budgets continue to be squeezed so we must focus our intervention and support to where the need is greatest. We must ensure provision and outcomes are more even so that ALL of our educators have the skills and capacity to learn from each other.

Our provision for SEN students will increase with 2 new ASC units in our Primary schools, a new ASC unit opening at Blessed Hugh Farringdon, the Avenue expanding, Phoenix college being relocated and a bid for a new SEND Free school. The aim of all of this is to increase expert capacity in Reading so students can be educated nearer to home.

Our exclusions are too high, and there is a big cross over with our disadvantaged and SEN students here. Schools cannot solve all of societies problems but we can do more to support schools and help them understand and work with these young people. Our trauma informed approach to managing behaviour has been discussed with schools and has been received well. We will be looking to extend practical use of this within our schools.

The strategy sets out a practical plan on what our education team will focus on, how we will achieve more for our students and how all of the organisations involved can work together to e sure our students get the start in life they deserve.

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Fair Workload Charter for Readings teachers

A new Fair Workload Charter for Readings teachers will be announced at the ACE committee meeting this month. The charter has been agreed with the Council, head teachers, and teachers unions as a blue print for teacher well being in Reading.

The charter will help both teachers and head teachers understand how to cut down workload to more manageable levels. It is workload over everything else that teachers cite as the main reason for leaving the profession, an issue becoming more and more important as the teacher shortage deepens. The charter contains practical examples and advice on how schools and teachers can cut down on workload in agreement with Ofsted and DFE guidelines. It also lets teachers know where to go and what they can do if their workload is getting too much.

This charter will form part of a wider package of measures that Brighter Futures for Children are currently working on to help with recruiting and retaining our teachers. Our teachers are probably under more strain that ever before, with dwindling resources, class sizes rising and demands increasing, we need to do all we can to let them know they are valued and supported.

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Councillors call to fairly fund our Nursey Schools

The future of local Council run nursery schools in England is under threat after March 2020 as adequate funding from the Tory Government has not been confirmed. Church Ward Councillors are urging the Government to take action to ensure maintained nursery schools are financially sustainable into the future.  Nursery schools are vital for many children’s start in life and this uncertainty is putting their future in doubt. 
Labour believes all of our children deserve the best start in life and so our nurseries need to be adequately funded.

In South Reading we are proud of the work our nursery schools such as Blagdon, Little Owls and Geoffrey Field do with our youngsters but the job they do is becoming more difficult every day. Nurseries are facing budget cuts from Central Government of up to 17% and the number of places available has fallen as a consequence. If you want to help us let the Government know we want this to end, please sign the petition. 

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/237044
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Education wishlist from the Government for 2019

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
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ACE Committee to report on education standards in Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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School cuts petition

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

Stop school cuts petition

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Education discussion at December Labour All members meeting

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

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

 

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Consultation Starts on School Admission Scheme & Policy

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

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

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

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

Cllr Ashley Pearce, Lead Councillor for Education, said:

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

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

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

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Education funding cuts

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

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

 

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The accountability of Academy Schools

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

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

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

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Impressive GCSE results for Reading’s pupils

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

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

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