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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Bungled Delivery of RBC's Consultation Letter

Update at bottom of post

Residents angered that they’ve not received Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) letter yet should get it through their door by the end of today. 

The letter, in which RBC announces tonight’s public meeting (which starts at 7 pm at Rivermead Leisure Centre) and sets out details of the consultation process to identify a permanent site for The Heights primary school, should all have been delivered by Monday (23 March).  However several roads were left out.

I raised my concern of non-delivery a week ago with RBC officers after a resident alerted me to the problem.  I chased for an answer on Monday and, having still not had a response, spoke directly with RBC’s Managing Director yesterday.

RBC hired a local company to distribute the letter across the Borough as well as the parishes of Mapledurham and Kidmore End.  After mine and other complaints, RBC asked the delivery company to review its GPS tracking to see which homes had actually received the letter and to identify those homes missed *

Kevin McDaniel (RBC's officer in charge of the consultation) told me that the contracted company should complete delivery of the roads omitted, as well as those roads part-done, by the end of today (Wednesday).

The late delivery has made tempers soar in this highly charged debate over where The Heights’ permanent home should go.  One local resident has written to me “I can think of no other possible reason for this omission than a deliberate attempt to exclude the people who are most likely to try and protect Mapledurham Playing Fields as the trustees should be doing. This matter has been known about for well over a week and to be 'looking into the matter' today seems to me an absolute fob. I am by no means assured about anything coming from RBC. This 'consultation' will be a farce.”

Tonight’s meeting is being recorded so anyone unable to attend should be able to watch it (RBC has indicated that the recording will be published on RBC's website in the next few days).

* Please note that homes with a notice “No unsolicited mail” will not receive RBC’s letter to meet with the registered delivery company’s policy.

Also note that parking charges may be suspended at Rivermead tonight, however please check to ensure this is the case!

Update:

Following Wednesday night's public meeting lots of people have told me that their road still hasn't received RBC's letter. I've reported the roads through to RBC and this is the latest response:
To: "Ballsdon, Isobel"
Sent: Thursday, 26 March 2015, 16:56
Subject: Roads still without RBC's consultation letter
From: "McDaniel, Kevin"

Hello Isobel,

Thank you for sending these through.  We have asked the supplier to review every single GPS trace to ensure that every street has been covered and to make good any omissions which are not covered by “no circular” instructions or physical impediments (eg locked gates).  They will advise us once that process is complete and I will let you know too.

I trust this will give everyone a letter and that all will take part in the survey.

Regards

Kevin

Monday, 23 March 2015

Published: EFA's Information Pack - The Heights Primary School

The Education Funding Agency's Information Pack for The Heights primary school has been published.  You can read it on RBC's website.

Please see my earlier posts (10 & 17 March) for background information.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Reading Borough Council's Letter on Permanent Location for The Heights Consultation

RBC's consultation letter
Reading Borough Council's (RBC's) letter should be arriving on your doorstep this week, giving details of the consultation arrangements to help identify a permanent location for The Heights Primary School.

Please download a copy [see to the right] if you have not received one, though do let me know so that I can inform RBC to ensure that your road is included in the letter drop.  Bear in mind the letter is not in an envelope, nor is it personally addressed, it is simply one piece of A4 paper.

For further information please look at my earlier post on 10 March where I wrote more background information on this whole subject.

As yet the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has not published its Information Pack.  I believe this has been delayed by the late addition of the fifth site to the consultation.

Update: Following complaints from residents of non-delivery of RBC's letter I raised their concerns with RBC.  As soon as I receive a response I will put a further update.  So far I've had complaints from individuals that Upper Warren Avenue, Gravel Hill and Hewett Close have either not received it the entire length, or some homes have been missed out.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Timing of Reading Bridge's total temporary Closure should be rethought

At Traffic Management Committee last night my Conservative colleague Cllr Ed Hopper raised concerns about Reading Borough Council's (RBC’s) recent announcement that Reading Bridge will close completely for two weeks during GCSE and A Level exams, shortly after the General & Local Elections. 

Earlier calls from Rob Wilson MP highlighting the risks of significant impact upon students had been derided by RBC's deputy leader Cllr Tony Page and last night was no different.  Responsible parents have a valid concern and it is disgraceful that Cllr Page should dismiss out of hand these parents’ plea to rethink the closure dates.

Ed told the committee it simply isn’t possible to close Reading Bridge without having a huge impact on traffic across Reading, pointing out that a closure should not be considered in the run up to Christmas, over the Reading Festival period, or during the public examination season.  Ed supported Rob Wilson MP’s call for the closure works to be re-scheduled, stating that Cllr Page shouldn’t play roulette with young people’s future.

As any parent who has teenagers (like me) knows, biologically they find it difficult to get up in the morning.  They need a lot of sleep.   Add to this the uncertainty of how long their journey to school will take and it is easy to understand parents’ concerns.  The home to school distance at secondary level far exceeds the usual 2 miles to a primary school.  One teenager from my road travels 5 miles across town to Maiden Erlegh so would face a 1¾ hour walk, according to Google Maps, to sit her A levels.  The ReadyBike scheme isn’t comprehensive enough to enable exam entrants to jump on a bike during the bridge closure, even if all of the teenagers were road safe.

It seems that Reading's Labour administration, in its haste to avoid closing the bridge in the run up to the General Election, has failed to take into account the serious consequences students may have to endure.  It is ironic therefore that Cllr Page attacked Rob Wilson MP for “electioneering”.

If students arrive late, they will not be allowed to sit their exam.  I’d have thought my opposite number Labour’s Education man, Cllr John Ennis, would be concerned by teenagers’ results being impacted, but I haven’t seen any statement.  The exam results will have a bearing on the rest of these teenagers’ lives so it seems foolhardy for the Labour administration to plough ahead regardless with the total closure of Reading Bridge.

[Reading Bridge is scheduled to be closed from 18 May for two weeks.]

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Campaign to stop speeding along Shepherds Lane

Vivienne Anderson on my right and other Shepherd's Lane residents
Local resident Vivienne Anderson presented a petition to Reading Borough Council's (RBC's) Traffic Management Sub-Committee tonight on behalf of Shepherds Lane residents calling for the introduction of road calming measures. She put forward strong arguments to support this request.

Mrs Anderson's petition, which was signed by all bar three of  the 50+ Shepherd's Lane residents, stated: 

"For a long time residents have been aware of the hazardous and speeding traffic along Shepherds Lane which is causing great concern for the welfare of both the residents and animals. We, the undersigned, are signing this petition in order for the Council to effect changes and to prevent any further danger." 

Some Shepherd's Lane residents and I accompanied Mrs Anderson to demonstrate our support for action to be taken to stop the regular speeding which has lead to many cats being run over and killed, as well as several narrowly avoided vehicle collisions in what should be a 30 mile-an-hour road.

Mrs Anderson said two of her cats had been killed in the last three years and that other residents had suffered the sadness of their cats being killed as well.  She remarked that the volume of traffic had got a lot worse in the last few years. Mrs Anderson highlighted the danger of the junction with Kidmore Road and Tokers Green Lane where drivers have to jut out a long way before seeing whether it is clear up the lane.  

Tokers Green Lane, she said, is very busy with lots of mothers taking & picking up their children to Kidmore End School.  Cars travelling north up Kidmore Road accelerate into Shepherd's Lane up the incline.  This bend was widened and resurfaced by RBC which unfortunately has exacerbated the speeding problem.

Mrs Anderson also commented about the large number of homes being built in Oxfordshire and that many motorists coming into Reading on the A4074 turn off, using Shepherd's Lane as a rat run to avoid the frequently congested St Peter's Hill.

My Conservative colleague Cllr Ed Hopper (whose own ward ends at the northern end of the Kidmore Road) supported the petition stating that Thames Valley Police has conducted speed checks and confirmed that speeding motorists have been clocked, so the perception of local residents was correct.

I am happy to report that the Committee agreed with the officer recommendation for the issue to be investigated and a report come back to a future meeting.  The whole report can be read here.  I will provide an update following the next step in this campaign.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Where Should The Heights Primary School's Permanent Home Be?

Reading Borough Council (RBC) has opened a public consultation to identify a permanent site out of a choice of five possible locations north of the river for The Heights Primary School.  The Education Funding Agency is funding the consultation.

If you have a view on where The Heights’ permanent home should be, do participate in the consultation.  RBC is writing a letter with details of the consultation’s format to about 67,000 households in Reading and the parishes of both Mapledurham and Kidmore End.

The EFA will be publishing an Information Pack next week (16 March or thereabouts) which will have particulars on each of the five possible sites.  This will be available electronically from RBC’s website with hard copies available at the Civic Centre, local libraries and leisure centres.

Thereafter a public meeting will take place on Wednesday 25 March starting at 7 pm (doors open at 6.30 pm) at Rivermead.  If you wish to attend, RBC asks that people register in advance on the council’s same website page.  The meeting will be independently chaired, but the panel line-up is yet to be announced.  If you would like to ask a question, submit this when you register to attend.

A survey will go live on RBC’s website page at 9.30 am on 30 March with hard copies available.

To recap, The Heights opened in September, much to the relief of local families who otherwise would not have been offered a Reception class school place north of the river as there was a shortage of places, on a temporary site in lower Caversham.  The school has a fantastic Head, Karen Edwards, who together with her staff, governors and trustees has established a nurturing and exciting learning environment in which pupils are thriving.

The EFA bought Highridge, a residential site in Upper Warren Avenue (UWA), last June having first looked at all possible sites for the school’s permanent home within the catchment area.  However due to the public’s negative reaction to the UWA site and following requests by Rob Wilson MP, the EFA decided to concede to the local Member of Parliament’s request to consult the public to try and find a locally supported permanent home for The Heights.

The Heights temporary site off the Gosbrook Road is not large enough to be the school’s permanent site, even if it were located within the school’s catchment area.

The possible five sites (as listed by RBC) are:

High Ridge, Upper Warren Avenue
Mapledurham Playing Fields
Albert Road Recreation Ground
Shipnells Farm (better known as Bugs Bottom)
Dysons Farm (Land at the junction of Shepherd’s Lane and Kidmore Road)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Reading Labour Needs to Fix the Basics

Reading Borough Council (RBC) debated the local budget last night.  Sadly there was a tiny audience and the meeting was not filmed so very few will be privy to all that was said.  Labour voted through a Council Tax increase of 1.99% whereas the Conservative Group would have frozen it. 

Turning to education, I am sure that RBC's Labour administration decided in advance to avoid drawing attention to their abysmal 'leadership' of RBC's Education Department in a bid to stop the press shining a light on their performance.  Not one of the Labour councillors responded to my speech, which I copy below:
Our duty tonight is to set the budget for the Council’s services.  There needs to be recognition of how these services have been performing and what needs to be done now to ensure Reading Borough Council makes best use of tax payers’ money.  As the Conservative Group’s Education spokesman I will focus on Reading’s schools.

The Education budget is set against a back drop of worrying developments and a history of poor standards in some LEA controlled Reading schools.  Tonight is not the time to celebrate the achievements of many schools, head teachers and pupils.  We must focus on how best to spend the budget to deliver a good education to all.

In mid-December the authority’s school expansion programme saw costs rise from £61 million to £70 million in just three months.  That’s an increase of nearly 15%.  Clearly there was an insufficient understanding or consideration of risks, not least the inevitable cost escalation that would result from the economic recovery this Conservative-led government has brought the country.

This increase has forced savings to be made of £9 million, including a de-scoping of the current programme.

Separately, turning to school standards, Ofsted published its report earlier this month focussing mainly on the town’s primary schools.  Ofsted stated that:
  • Too many schools are inadequate and this number is growing 
  • There is too much variability in the quality of support that schools receive from local authority officers  
  • Schools are not improving at a sufficiently rapid rate 
  • Not enough schools are good or outstanding and too many pupils attend schools that do not provide at least a good standard of education 
  • The local authority is not able to demonstrate enough of an impact on improving the effectiveness of schools and academies
Ofsted concluded that there is “an urgent need to tackle underperformance where it exists and to support and challenge schools to improve at a faster rate.”

Rather than being open about its failings and what it is going to do about them, this administration presented the situation as one that is under control and where the actions needed are to “drive up performance further” heading its press release “Reading strives for Outstanding Schools”. 

The reality is that this is not about improving a good performance but rather fixing the basics for more than a quarter of primary school pupils and delivering these 3,500 children a decent education.

And let’s not pretend that the Ofsted findings were in line with the administration’s own concerns as stated in their press release issued the same day as Ofsted’s report.  The draft findings were shared with the administration well before Cllr Ennis ordered his peer review.  At least his peer review was consistent with Ofsted’s findings that school improvement must improve.

We have concerns about financial management following the cost escalation on the school expansion plan.  We have concerns about the management of education as highlighted in the Ofsted report. 

How can Reading’s residents have any faith in this administration’s ability to deliver every child at least a good education in light of the matters I’ve highlighted this evening?  Providing a good education enables the aspirations of our town’s children to be fulfilled.  There is so much talk in the administration’s Corporate Plan of Narrowing the Gap between disadvantaged children and the advantaged, yet in its narrative I saw no mention of the need to pull the standard of education up where currently it is inadequate.  It isn’t until page B49 that the preparation and delivery of a new Education Improvement Plan is listed, however the delivery date is 2017!

Cllr Ennis should not forget that the Conservative-led government’s funding of Universal Free School Meals and Pupil Premium is helping schools “narrow the gap”.

Late this afternoon I saw that the last agenda item, number 21, on the forthcoming ACE Committee meeting is an update on Education Progress.  I ask that it is moved up the agenda as this must surely be a priority? 

The authority needs to turn around its failing schools, this needs to be done quickly as children have but one school education.  I welcome the extra support and challenge that Ofsted is going to provide the council, though it should not have been necessary had the leadership been addressing the long-standing issues of failing to robustly challenge and support schools all along.

The administration needs to demonstrate that it is maximising the use every pound of this budget to give every child the start they deserve.
For further details about Ofsted's statement and letter see my previous post