Tuesday 27 November 2012

Discouraging rating for Reading primaries

Today Ofsted has published their report on Schools.  Reading came out equal 5th worst with only 53% of pupils at a Good or Outstanding rated primary school. 

From page 30 onwards it sets out inspection result statistics.  The report lists local authority areas where pupils are most likely to attend a good or outstanding primary school - Camden at 92% being the best performing. 

In contrast to Reading's poor rating, neighbouring Wokingham scored 70% and West Berkshire 79%.

Sunday 25 November 2012

New primary school bid for Caversham

Sparked off by the Caversham & District Residents' Association's (CADRA) meeting in October, a bid for a new primary school is being put together by a group of Caversham Heights parents.

CADRA hosts meetings on topical subjects, last month's being on the school places crisis.  Kevin McDaniel, the RBC officer in charge of Education, was the evening's main speaker.  There was an excellent turnout (I reckon over 100), not surprising as CADRA had advertised it well in advance and there have been school place oversubscription problems for years north of the river.

Kevin invited anyone interested in having a further meeting to discuss setting up a Free School* to get in touch.  There was a great response and 20 came to the Grosvenor Pub including my Conservative colleague Cllr Ed Hopper and me.  The shortage of primary school places hits families in the Ward areas we represent on Reading Borough Council.

The group's aim is to submit a bid before the 4 January 2013 deadline to open The Heights Primary in September 2014 as local schools are oversubscribed.  Their bid will be for a Free School* and their intention is for it to be based upon the excellent primaries in the area.

If you live in Caversham and are concerned whether your child/ren will get into your existing catchment school (Caversham Primary, or Emmer Green/The Hill), do fill in The Heights Primary's questionnaire.  For their bid to be successful they have to evidence that there is sufficient local demand.  So even if this isn't relevant to you, do tell anyone for whom it would be.

You can read more about the group's plans on their website and also join their Facebook Group The Heights Primary, Caversham.  Their email address is:

I am extremely impressed by the parents' drive & determination and all they have achieved in just a couple of weeks.

* For more information about Free Schools here's the link to the relevant part of the Department for Education's website.  All Saints Junior School was the first Free School to open in the borough, the success of which has spurred the successful bidders on to now look to putting in a bid to set up a secondary school WREN School Group - Reading.  The National Autistic Society is opening a Free School for autistic children in Reading in September 2013, the same time that Reading UTC is opening.  The UTC (University Technical College) for 14-19 year olds will specialise in computer science & engineering.

Friday 23 November 2012

Update on Mapledurham Pavilion

At last month's Warren & District Residents' Association's (WADRA's) AGM I promised to update residents upon receipt of the report to Cabinet's meeting on 3rd December.  This evening my councillor post bag contained a copy and you can read it here together with its appendices: Appendix A, Appendix B, Appendix C,  & Appendix D.

My initial thoughts on the report and its recommended actions are as follows:
  • I welcome 2.3 asking Cabinet to approve the use of Virgin Money Giving so that donations will become eligible for Gift Aid
  • I note the omission in paragraph 4.3 that it was the local Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition that pledged £100,000 of capital funding for re-providing the hall and changing rooms
  • I am disappointed the Labour administration is not prepared to pay for the planning application [see paragraph 4.3], bearing in mind the success of residents' fund raising to date
Members of the public are welcome to come to Cabinet which starts at 6.30 pm Monday 3rd December.  This item is at the end of the agenda so, unless it is brought forward, is likely to be quite late in the evening.  I will be requesting to speak on the item as Chairman of the Mapledurham Playing Fields Management Committee and the local Ward Councillor.  If any residents wish to speak they would need to give due notice by Monday (26th November) afternoon to  It would be great if you would let me know of your intention.  Alternatively I am happy to incorporate what you'd like to say into my speech if that is helpful.  Do drop me an email:

A meeting with the Football Foundation is on Monday 10th December to which officers and I are going.  I will provide an update thereafter.

Gas roadworks on A4074 and Woodcote Way

Many have been delayed and inconvenienced by Southern Gas Network’s (SGN's) ongoing mains replacement scheme.  Therefore I thought readers would be interested to see SGN's intended programme of works for the remainder.  The following is from an RBC Highways Network officer:
Upper Woodcote Road – to date:
SGN's initial works and intension in Upper Woodcote Road, was to conduct the works using two different working methods:
  • Section 1 (Shepherds Lane to Hewett Avenue) was to be completed by inserting the new pipe inside the old, with the intension being a quicker progression of works, less scarring of the carriageway surface and less material use/wastage.
  • Section 2 (Hewett Avenue to Woodcote Way) was to be completed by excavating a trench in which the new pipe could be laid, as they would be unable to fit the new pipe within the old. 
Both methods would require the transfer of individual services on to the new pipe, the abandonment/decommissioning of the old pipe and the use of portable traffic signals to safely manage traffic around the working area.
SGN have managed to complete Section 1, but there were a number of engineering difficulties that slowed the progression of work. It was decided that SGN should not continue on to Section 2, as this would have carried the works in to the network’s busiest time, on the lead up to Christmas.

Woodcote Way:
SGN intend to complete the replacement of gas mains, located in both footways between Geoffreyson Road and Upper Woodcote Road, commencing early next week. They intend to insert the new main inside the old, one footway at a time, and hope to avoid the need for portable traffic signals.
Excavation works will stop by 19th December at the latest, with excavations being reinstated and the area tidied over Christmas. The earliest SGN will return to the area is 2nd January, although it is likely that works will not recommence until 7th January.
There is likely to be a further 2 weeks of work in the New Year, with works in Woodcote Way being competed around 21st January 2013.
Upper Woodcote Road – completion:
SGN intend to continue their works (as per Section 2 above) from around 21st January 2013 (following completion of works in Woodcote Way). The works will require the use of portable traffic signals and should be completed within 5 weeks, subject to any engineering difficulties.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Get the Political Picture?

Until recent years most people tended to stick with reading one national newspaper - perhaps favouring its political slant, a particular columnist or section. With the arrival of the internet, online articles and also Twitter, many including me have taken to reading more widely (to the detriment of newspaper sales) choosing to read on subjects of interest regardless of which publication they come from.

One of my favourite newspaper adverts was the Independent’s several years ago where the viewer saw the same scene repeated but from different perspectives. The first angle showed a woman walking along a pavement carrying a handbag. Next a skin head running to tackle her. Then the angle panned out showing something starting to fall down towards the woman. Finally you saw the whole scene and the skinhead reacting to the danger, saving the woman from injury.

Although I don’t claim to be independent – after all I belong to a political party - I try to be fair and accurate. I love a good debate and if someone else has a valid point, I’ve no problem with accepting it.  

I believe it is important to show links of local bloggers from the different political parties in Reading (even though I often do not agree with what they write or their personal/political views) so that you, my readers, can easily see what the other parties are saying and work out for yourselves with whom you agree.

I find it interesting that my Conservative colleague Richard Willis does the same, yet the Labour, Green & Lib Dem blogs choose not to.  

Nobody has all the answers so keeping an open mind, being prepared for healthy challenge, and trying to represent my residents - as well as making it easy for you to read what others of different political parties are writing - suits me.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Primary School Admissions September 2013

RBC has announced where 9 of 12 Reception ‘bulge classes’* will be for September 2013.  You can read the list on RBC's website

I’ve first-hand experience of being given a waiting list number instead of a primary school place so I know what a nerve-wracking process this is for parents.  Although ‘bulge classes’ are not ideal there is no alternative given the short amount of time between now and September 2013. I welcome the announcement of where the majority of the 12 bulge classes will be located as this will help parents make more realistic choices on their application forms before the 15 January 2013 deadline. 
Micklands has been confirmed as one of the two primaries north of the river taking a 'bulge class', the other primary is expected to be finalised & named this week [I'll update this post when it is confirmed].  If you live in Caversham and are applying for September it is worth holding off until the announcement.  If, on the other hand, you've submitted your application already you are able to change it.

The Council is further off finding a solution for the remaining two bulge classes in central Reading.
The shortage of school places came to a head right across Reading back in April for children starting Reception in September this year.  On offer day this year 79 families weren't given a school place because the Labour administration had failed to anticipate and prepare for the number of applications or even where the worst pressure for places was likely to be.
As my colleague, Cllr Sandra Vickers said, “Nobody wants a repeat of that shambles."  Like me, Sandra hopes the administration’s forecasting will prove to be accurate next time.
For many years I've campaigned on school admissions (predominantly primary though not exclusively).  I've helped parents fight admission appeals and know how difficult it is to win an appeal once a reception year, primary place has been refused.  Therefore it is all important parents filling their application form in wisely, giving the best chance of getting a school place.
Advice is provided by RBC on this page.  RBC's school admissions team are on 0118 9372550.  If, after reading RBC's information you still would like some help, do drop me an email and I will be happy to advise.
* 'Bulge class' = a one-off extra class (usually of 30 pupils though can be less) in a year group which works its way up through a school from Reception to Year 6

Monday 19 November 2012

Care Home Investigation

Just over a week ago RBC received the autopsy results of a 95 year old who had been recovering from a stroke in a council care home.  As reported by the local media he contracted pneumonia and died from Legionnaires’ disease.  I pass on my condolences to his relatives and friends.

The Willows primarily is a dementia care home so most residents are elderly and particularly vulnerable.  It also provides intermediate care for residents needing a short stay before or after hospital. 
In my new role as Conservative strategic lead spokesman for Housing, Health, Community Care, Education & Children’s Services I asked for a briefing to ensure RBC was doing everything it should be to investigate this case, and to safeguard the wellbeing of the other residents in RBC’s care.  The following is, to the best of my recollection, what I was told.
An independent consultant was brought in on 10 November to investigate.  Some, though not all, tests at The Willows (previously called Tanfield) Care Home were positive for the Legionella bacteria.  The basin in the 95-year-old’s room at The Willows tested positive, as did the shower head in a communal bathroom.  Measures have been put in place to eradicate the two traces of Legionella bacteria at The Willows and to prevent it coming back.  Further tests are being carried out to ensure these measures have been successful.

Health & Safety Executive representatives are meeting RBC officers this week.  The Head of Adult Social Care is preparing a report detailing the chronology – expected to take weeks.  Councillors, including myself, will be able to scrutinise the case at the Adult Safeguarding Board, the next planned meeting for which is 4 December (though it wasn’t clear last week when I received my briefing whether RBC’s report would be ready in time or if a separate meeting would need to be convened).
The Interim Director & Council Manager confirmed that RBC adheres to the Health & Safety Executive’s approved code of practice on Legionella, that all staff and residents have been spoken to and kept up-to-date.  Only one of the residents has taken up RBC’s offer of moving.
I await the outcome of the investigation.

Update:  The Adult Safeguarding Board meeting has been put back to 18th December. 

Tuesday 6 November 2012

School Places: New Meeting plus Accuracy of Forecast Questioned

Today arrangements have been finalised for a meeting of people interested in finding out how to set up a Free School in north west Caversham.  It starts at 7.30 pm in the Grosvenor pub on Thursday 8th November.  RBC officer Kevin McDaniel will be there, as will I and two colleagues.

This meeting came about as a result of the Caversham & District Residents' Association meeting on 22nd October as a way to look into providing adequate school places north of the river.

At last night's Cabinet meeting my colleague Cllr Sandra Vickers asked the following question:
Further to the answers on school places the Lead Councillor for Education gave me at Council on 23rd October, please will he clarify the following:
Since the Lead Cllr says the shortage of places is a national problem, predominantly in the South East, is his assumption safe that Reading’s neighbouring councils will be able to continue to give the same number of school places to Reading families for the next 5 years?  Why would these neighbouring councils not have the same issue of migration to their areas, thereby reducing available places for Reading children?
This was Cllr Ennis's response: 
This issue is a national one and the population is expanding.  Our neighbouring authorities are also dealing with this issue.  Further to the cabinet report of 1st October we noted that the forecast is indeed subject to variation.  Officers have modelled the available space based on current, stated intentions from our neighbours including their published strategic plans.  Cabinet have however requested that the forecast be reviewed and represented each year because we know the situation will develop over time.
There is already a significant challenge to find places and we believe the proposed level of expansion – 12 forms of entry in Primary school immediately and access to 16 more forms of entry into Secondary school by the end of the decade – is the prudent level of permanent expansion which balances the variability of need with the financial constraints that we face.