Thursday, 31 October 2013

A School Expansion Programme for Reading

31/10/2013 - Reading Borough Council Press Release

READING Borough Council can today announce the next stage in it’s on-going plan to cater for the significant increase in demand for school places.

Proposals for a major expansion programme of 13 primary schools across Reading will create an additional 2,520 school places over the next seven years. This will be made up of 12 classes of 30 children in each of the seven primary age year groups.

The school expansion options have been developed following the ‘Lets Talk Education’ consultations last year and earlier this year, in which the Council engaged schools, parents and local communities about how best to deal with the extra demand for school places.

A detailed report will now go to a meeting of the Council’s Adult Social Care, Children’s Services and Education Committee (ACE) on Thursday November 7th for consideration.

The report - which can be found at (Item 11) - outlines a £64 million investment in 13 primary schools across Reading. Expansions could be either through traditional or more modern, modular construction techniques, and would be tailored according to the individual needs of a school. This would be achieved in close consultation with headteachers, governing bodies and parents.

Reading Borough Council is committed to providing a excellent learning environment for every child and expansions would need to fit criteria which includes: sufficient space for effective teaching and learning; no classes larger than 30 pupils; teaching spaces which are warm, safe and dry; sufficient access to outdoor space for break times.

The 13 schools to be expanded under the proposals are:

• Alfred Sutton Primary School
• The Ridgeway Primary
• Geoffrey Field Infants
• Geoffrey Field Juniors
• Southcote Primary
• Churchend Primary
• St Michael’s Primary
• New Oxford Road Academy
• EP Collier Primary
• Thameside Primary
• Dee Park & Ranikhet Primary Redevelopment
• Newtown Primary
• St Michael’s Primary

John Ennis, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Education, said:

“This school expansion programme is being put forward by the Council following detailed conversations with schools, parents and local communities as part of the ‘Lets Talk Education’ consultation. Census figures have shown us there has been a 34% increase in children aged 0-4 years old in Reading since 2001. That is the second highest rise in the whole of the South-East and over the coming years the Council has a duty to provide a school place for every one of those children.

“The key to this process however will be making sure the expansion options, and importantly the design of those options, work for individual schools. That means having further conversations with headteachers, governing bodies, parents and local communities. Every school building is different, which means this can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. By talking to schools early in the process about what works for them, I am confident we can get this right. This is not just about catering for the extra demand for places, but about creating an excellent learning environment for our children which will help them achieve their potential.

“Unlike other places, Reading is a tight urban area with limited space or land for new schools. That makes it all the more important that we put in the extra work necessary to make sure the expansions meet the needs of schools, both now and for the future generation of pupils . I’d like to thank all the headteachers and governing bodies for their help in bringing this key project forward.”

The ACE report sets out a range of building options, and their suitability for each site. In some cases, because of the location, the configuration of the existing building or the heritage status, the only option will be to build using traditional techniques. However, in other cases using modern, modular construction will provide a better solution and deliver more flexibility.

Reading Borough Council has already been working closely with school headteachers and governing bodies to develop viability studies. These discussions will now continue with meetings with heads, governors and planned open events for parents and staff, as well as local residents who are not parents as common issues to address as part of the process will include transport and parking.

The total estimated cost of the proposed expansion programme is £64 million. The Council was successful in its bid for £19.1 million through the Government’s Targeted Basic Needs Programme. The proposal is for the remainder of the cost to be financed through section 106 planning agreements, education grants and long-term borrowing.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Tory Leader Quits: Who's Next?

Leader of the Opposition on Reading Borough Council, Tory Tim Harris, has confirmed that he is to stand down at the next election. With Labour piling up over 50% of the vote last time in Church Ward, the only question was whether he would try to chicken run to another seat or give up altogether. Well, now we know.

Former leader of the Lib Dems Daisy Benson is also widely believed to be following Harris out of the council next May, rather than face defeat in Redlands.

That's two Labour gains.

So who else will quit - or be thrown out?

No political contest in Abbey or Battle wards.

In Caversham, where Labour won so convincingly last time against the Tory incumbent, former Tory leader Andrew Cumpsty faces an awkward decision. Will he stay or will he go?

Katesgrove Lib Dem Rebecca Rye has already said she's leaving. Another Labour gain in prospect.

Labour is on the rise again in Kentwood beating the sitting Tory last time, so every chance of Tory Jenny Rynn losing if she braves it out.

No election in Mapledurham and no real contest in Minster and Norcot.

In Park ward the Green vote is softening at an alarming rate so Rob White's future is by no means secure.

Peppard is a dog's breakfast as the Tory in-fighting continues.

There is no reason to believe there will be any changes in Southcote, Thames or Whitley, which only leaves Tilehurst, where current Lib Dem leader Ricky Duveen faces a fresh Tory challenge. The Lib Dems threw huge resources into this ward last time, but I'm not convinced that even a repeat effort by them will bring the old boy back in 30 weeks time.

What is guaranteed is that there will be many new faces in the council chamber after the May 2014 elections, most of them on the Labour benches as the group refreshes and expands it's team.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Reading Buses: Best In Britain

Reading Buses has been recognised as the best bus operator in the country at an awards in London last week.

The National Transport Awards citation reads "Bus Operator of the Year Reading Buses passenger and revenue growth is underpinned by solid performance improvements. High customer satisfaction is borne from a significant focus on improving staff morale, skills training, vehicle cleanliness and investment in new technology as well as improved on-board information displays. Recruitment changes have achieved 2% increase in female drivers."

The company, which is wholly owned by Reading Borough Council, also collected the award for "Dedication to Access for All" at the event, because it's fleet of 100% low floor buses - four years ahead of target deadline.

In the past year the frequency of its biggest route, the purple 17, was increased on Monday to Saturday services, boosting passenger numbers by 20%. There has also been a 25% growth in the Greenwave services and 17% more young people are using buses under the Solo.

On-line ticket sales have also increased by a massive ten times in value.

All in all, well done!