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3 Jul 2012

Question to Council: School Places in Battle Ward


This evening, at full Council, I asked the following question to the Lead Councillor for Education & Children’s Services John Ennis:

'In recent weeks parents of children starting in Reception in September 2012 have been receiving their offer for school places.  As offers went out if became clear both at the school gate, and through parents contacting me, that a significant number of children in the Battle Ward, and surrounding area, were without a school place.  The pressure on school places this year was known, and ‘bulge’ classes arranged but there were not enough extra places identified in West Reading.  This has caused upset and uncertainty at what is already a stressful time for parents.

I ask the Lead Councillor for Education & Children’s Services to confirm:
  •  If all children due to start school in September 2012 now have a place?
  • Why so many children, especially in the Battle ward area, were not offered a school during the first wave of allocations?
  • What lessons have been learnt from this round of admissions?
  • What is being done to prevent this happening next year?
  • What are we doing to help parents travel to the schools they have been allocated out of their catchment particularly those with children already in a different school?'
I felt it important to ask these questions publicly.  I am a representative of the residents of Battle ward, and a parent, and understand how stressful the school admissions process can be.  I have been in contact with Cllr Ennis and the Leader of the Council Jo Lovelock since it became clear there was a problem in Battle and have been meeting with officers since April to discuss them, most recently to put in place help with travel.

I have also been supportive of Battle Primary School's parents and staff and made sure I attended the recent meetings regarding their Ofsted report that put them into Special Measures.  Battle Cllrs Chris Maskell and Gul Khan also attended to offer their support and listen to the concerns of parents about the forced academisation of their community school.

I am also governor of Oxford Road Community School and have also been supportive of the proposed expansion of the school and relocation of the nursery unit allowing for an in take of 30 extra children into reception in September.  I was at the exhibition on Monday, again to listen to parents.

It is important to me that, not only am I active in word, but also in action.

The answer to my question can be seen here:

  • If all children due to start school in September 2012 now have a place?  
All children whose parents applied for a year R place by 16 January 2012 closing date have been offered a place at one of our schools in September this year.  In all 2144children have been offered places in this basis.
  • Why so many children, especially in the Battle ward area, were not offered a school during the first wave of allocations?
The number of children seeking places in the joint designated areas of Battle, Oxford Road and Wilson primary schools significantly outnumbered the number of schools places available this ear.  The ratio of children to available places was over 2:1.
  • What lessons have been learnt from this round of admissions?
We are already in the process of adapting the service we offer parents by improving our telephone call handling service, by reducing waiting times at critical periods, for example following primary and secondary admissions rounds.
In addition we have not only been able to identify where the additional children have presented, but also factors which make those areas most likely to support a greater number of applicants. 
  • What is being done to prevent this happening next year?
Work has already begun  to improve our forecasting ability which shows that the increase in pupil numbers we have seen this ear is likely to be sustained over the next 4 years.  Initially as a consequence we are going to engage the primary schools community in a discussion to produce recommendations for wider parental and community consultation to help determine where we might seek to expand the schools selected through this process.
Criteria for consideration include:
    • Performance of the schools
    • Proximity to pupil demand
    • Ofsted rating
    • Parental preference
    • Suitability of the school site for expansion
  • What are we doing to help parents travel to the schools they have been allocated out of their catchment particularly those with children already in a different school?'
We have met with officers and have asked them to look at options in a timely fashions to assist those families who, through no fault of their own, face long journeys to school and, in some cases, have older children in other schools.  We will be communicating with parents as soon as possible in order to resolve their situation.

As in the previous question on school places allocations I would like to acknowledge the difficulties parents and families faced in waiting for their allocated schools, particularly in the West Reading area and that we hope Councillors will support the expansion of schools throughout Reading to ensure every child has a school place in Reading.



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