Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Primary places for #rdg - all children have a place in September, but government needs to act too


At last night's cabinet meeting the council officers presented on the challenge on primary places for future years.  What struck me and I suspect most in the room was that the government is not only being very slow to respond putting huge strain on local authorities' ability to plan (for example waiting until March to confirm the capital settlement) but appears to be planning to under invest in school places.  The national fund that is available works out at only providing funding for about half of the increased demand that is happening as a result of the national 'baby boom' - and even that will be far too low as the cost per place that the government is reckoning on is far lower than the actual cost of building schools.  Reading will be putting in our best case but it will be competitive with many areas with demand pressure having problems.

Regardless of the silly excuses from local Conservatives the demographic shift is putting huge pressure on schools nationally, and the government is missing the boat, putting the educational future of an entire generation of children at risk.  I am angry about what this means.

Individual councils will be left picking up the tab, unless they want their children to be going to school in overcrowded or substandard school.

However there is some good news for families in Reading, despite being the second most pressured local authority in the country we have places for all our children in September, with an increase in the proportion offered their first preference (and a decrease in those not offered one of their preferences).  It's still hard for those parents who haven't got into their first choice school though.  My family will be one of those going through this next year and I can put myself in the shoes of those families, the most important thing is to work to ensure that we have every school a good school and enough places for our children.  It's a shame the government seems to be spending more time on looking at whether to take climate change out of the national curriculum than on the urgent matter of building schools, but all we can do locally is work within the framework that is set to get the best for our young people.  John Ennis has been tireless in working on this but thanks are also due to the council's officers and local schools (especially governing bodies) and parents who have been working in partnership to find ways to give all our young people the best education we can.

Council press release:

EVERY family who applied for a primary school place in Reading starting in September this year will be offered a place, despite continuing evidence of a significant increase in the population of primary school aged children in the town. 
Today (Tue April 16th) is the day when offers go out to all parents who applied for a primary school place starting in September 2013. Those who applied online can find out about their offer by logging into https://admissions.reading.gov.ukwith their username and password. Offer letters are being posted out today for all other applications.

A total 2,138 applications were received for the September 2013 intake. That figure is just six short of the total number of applications received last year, which in itself was an increase of nearly 200 applications from 2011 the figure. This year’s total suggests there has been a ‘step increase’ in the number of children of primary school age living in the town and this has been confirmed in the latest Census figures, which themselves show a 34% increase in children aged 0-4 years old - the second highest rise in the whole of the South-East since 2001 .

Initial data for primary school applications in Reading shows: 
  • The rate of ‘first preference’ has increased year-on-year by 1.3%, to 77.4%, as a result of additional classes being added to schools
  • The number of applications which received offers for one of their ‘top three preferences" increased by 3.2% year-on-year, to 93.5%
  • The number of families offered a place at a school they did not list on their application stands at 4.4%, a significant fall from last years 8.1% figure

Any parent who receives an offer this week and has any concerns, or wants to discuss the offer further, are being urged to phone Reading Borough Council’s dedicated Schools Admissions Team on 0118 937 3777 in the first instance. The Admissions Team will be on hand between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday to discuss in detail any alternative options which may be available.

John Ennis, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Education and Children’s Services, said: “The number of primary school applications received this year again confirms the significant increase there has been in young children in our town. Despite economic conditions, Reading remains a good place to live, find work and go to school and we want to be able to continue to offer every child in Reading the best possible education. The fact that the increase in numbers has been sustained this year shows very clearly it is something we can continue to expect going forward, which is why the Council is working hard to plan for the longer term.”

A national shortage of primary and secondary school places is being mirrored in Reading. Reading Borough Council has invested heavily in catering for that demand, to the tune of more than £25 million over a five year period and a £2 million investment in 2012, but estimates show there is expected to be an increased demand going forward.

A report to Reading Borough Council’s Cabinet last night (April 15th) outlined a Proposed Primary School Expansion Plan for Reading. The report outlined the Council’s intention to submit a number of bids to the Department for Education for additional capital to help realise the proposals for a significantly increased primary school capacity in the town.