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.