Tonight’s council meeting agenda is a mix of the very administrative and the highly charged – the statement on pay policy and ratification of the recommendation of the Independent Re-numeration Panel’s recommendations probably fall into the first and motions on workfare, the NHS and education on the other.
The Reading Labour party is taking a balanced approach to the government’s plans on both the NHS and education* – we oppose deeply the principles of privatisation and loss of accountability that they imply. However we are determined to make the best of a bad job for the people of Reading. My colleague John Ennis is proposing a motion that clearly sets out our position as a local education authority – we want the best for Reading’s children but will work with heads, staff governors and parents to ensure that the community interest in the schools maintained as far as possible during any academisation process:
“That this Council
1. Notes the increasing pressure from the Department for Education on schools to become academies, often against the will of schools, parents and local communities. This Council believes that the strategic intention of the present Secretary of State for Education is that all this country’s 22,000 schools should be academies, run by a variety of organizations, and responsible to him as Secretary of State rather than to local communities.
2. Believes that notwithstanding the rhetoric from the coalition parties about localism, such a system of education would be perhaps the most centralized in the world and could not but be intensely bureaucratic, tick-box-driven, and insensitive to real needs and opportunities on the ground.
3. While restating its willingness to continue to co-operate with all local providers in the interests of Reading children, the policy of this Council will therefore, in the event of approaches from the Department for Education about the ‘academisation’ of Reading schools, be to consult with heads, staff, governors and parents with the objective of agreeing a common response which will maintain the community interest in the schools that serve Reading children and continue to improve pupil progress and wellbeing.”
In the mean time questions are being asked about the botched plan by the local Conservative MP to create a ‘free school’ in East Reading, with Labour’s Tony Jones and Rachael Crisp raising parent’s concerns in both private and public – whether it is the bizarre age categorisation of 14-19 or the reported attempts to push through house building on the green space that has been used by the local community for decades.
Meanwhile the issues the Conservatives have chosen to raise tonight are either inward looking – they want a referendum on an elected Mayor and to change the format of councillors questions or largely based on policies that already exist – including asking Reading to take part in a BDUK bid that has already been submitted.
As for the Libdems and Greens, they have not raised a single item on the agenda – I could understand this from the Libdems since half of their group is about to step down but the Greens have some pressing local issues in their ward and ought to be raising them.
* we are also attempting to do the same on housing although the government’s policy is such a mess that it’s hard to see much of a silver lining at the moment.