Reading East MP Rob Wilson this week led a debate in the House of Commons highlighting the performance of local councils in running schools. The debate was prompted by damning statistics from the schools regulator Ofsted, which revealed that 5,500 out of the 18,700 children (approx. 30%) in schools run by Reading Borough Council (RBC) are considered mediocre or worse.
Rob, who secured parliamentary time for the debate, called on the Government to ensure Ofsted plays a stronger role in inspecting and regulating local authorities (LAs). LAs have a legal duty to promote high standards in the nearly 85% of schools across the country that they control. In the case of RBC, which controls 26 of the 31 primary schools in its catchment area:
- Pupils’ results at Key Stage 2 in the core areas of reading, writing and mathematics last year were in the bottom five of local authorities in the country, following the worst decline in performance in the South East region and the 3rd worst fall in performance in England;
Last year, the George Palmer primary school was removed from the local authority’s control due to a consistent failure to improve its poor performance, and re-opened as an academy school outside RBC’s control;
- RBC schools have also been found to have the highest fixed-term exclusion rate of any local authority in England;
- The attainment of key groups of children, including some ethnic minority groups, pupils with special educational needs (SEN), and those from poor backgrounds eligible for free school meals have also been poor. Indeed the gap between pupils on free school meals and the rest has grown wider at primary level, despite the Government having spent £4 billion on the “pupil premium”, giving schools extra money specifically targeted at helping disadvantaged children;
- and an Ofsted review found the Borough Council’s Children’s Centres in east Reading to be “inadequate in all respects”.
Ofsted has recently started inspecting the performance of local authorities in running schools to check what they are doing to raise standards and whether their efforts and staff are up to the job. However, the inspectorate has confirmed that it will not inspect every local authority and will not undertake a fixed cycle of inspections, but will focus its efforts on those councils of greatest concern. In the debate, Rob asked the schools minister to confirm, following Reading’s example, that “quietly failing authorities” would not be allowed to slip through Ofsted’s net, that inspections would be rigorous and followed through where necessary with genuine action. He asked the Minister to pay close attention to developments in Reading, and in the absence of improvement, to order a full inspection of RBC’s performance as a local education authority.
Schools Minister David Laws said in the debate that Rob had “draw[n] attention to something that is of great importance, not only to his constituency, but to the Government, [and] for the entire country.” The Minister confirmed that aspects of the performance of Reading’s schools were “not acceptable” and that he would be raising the case of RBC’s schools next week in his regular stocktake with the Chief Inspector of Schools.
Speaking after the debate, Rob said: “It simply isn’t good enough that 5,500 of the 18,700 children in RBC’s schools are in schools that are considered to be mediocre or worse. They are being sold short and their future prospects and wellbeing are being put at risk. For too long, RBC has been lacklustre as a local education authority. It has lacked the ambition and will to drive real improvement in its schools, has allowed schools to drift, and has too easily excused failure, particularly in respect of children from challenging backgrounds.
“Under this Government’s reform programme, we’ve been able to provide parents and children with greater choice by opening an outstanding new University Technical College outside of the council’s control, and soon many more parents in east Reading will finally get to send their children to their first choice school when the second Maiden Erlegh school opens under the free schools programme. But it says a lot about the Labour-run council’s attitude and culture that it has done nothing to support these efforts to spread world class opportunities to more children in Reading, and some Councillors have done everything in their power to thwart them.
“The council still controls the vast majority of primary schools and the majority of Reading’s schools overall. It cannot be allowed to continue to drift and I want Ofsted to make sure the council raises its game. We need to have an ambitious plan of action in Reading with schools working together, learning from best practice, and seeking new leadership where necessary.
“I’m pleased the Minister has given his commitment that he will raise the issue of Reading’s performance as early as next week with the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Sir Michael has an outstanding record in turning around failing schools. It may well be that we need his organisation to provide some leadership in turning round Reading Borough Council as an education authority.”
There is a new YouGov poll in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead at 3%:
Conservative 35% (no change)
Labour 38% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 10% (up 1%)
UKIP 11% (down 2%)
The changes above are within the margins of error but this is the third YouGov poll in a row with Labour’s lead at 3% or less. Sometimes we can see outliers with a particularly high or low lead but three in a row is about as consistent as you can get. Of course we will see some fluctuation in the days and weeks ahead but there is little doubt now that Labour’s lead over the Conservatives is greatly reduced. It is only a matter of time before we see the first poll showing the Conservatives ahead!
For those readers who doubt Labour’s downward trajectory I suggest you read this.
The poll above is compared with the YouGov poll I reported on 27 January.
There is a new ComRes telephone poll published tonight for tomorrow’s Independent which shows the Labour and the Conservatives almost neck and neck:
Conservative 32% (no change)
Labour 33% (down 4%)
Lib Dem 9% (no change)
UKIP 14% (up 4%)
After a brief rise in Labour’s poll lead recently it seems that it is down to a single point.
In further findings:
Some 39 per cent of people agreed with the statement that their family’s finances would be better off with David Cameron and George Osborne than with Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. But only 28 per cent agreed when the statement was reversed to say that their family’s finances would be better off with the Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor.
Women (31 per cent) were more likely than men (24 per cent) to believe their family’s finances would be better off under Mr Miliband and Mr Balls, while men (43 per cent) were more likely than women (35 per cent) to think they would be better off under the Prime Minister and Chancellor.
Only 29 per cent believe Mr Balls would make a better chancellor than Mr Osborne, while 47 per cent disagree with this statement. Almost one in four people (23 per cent) who voted Labour in 2010 do not think Mr Balls would do a better job than Mr Osborne.
Three in ten people (30 per cent) say they would be more likely to vote Labour if Mr Balls were replaced as Shadow Chancellor.
Methodology: ComRes interviewed 1,002 GB adults by telephone 24- 26 January 2014. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults and by past vote recall. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk.
Conservative 35% (no change)
Labour 37% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 9% (up 1%)
UKIP 13% (up 1%)
YouGov polls continue to jump around with Sunday’s YouGov poll showing a Labour lead of 7%. However, the 2% lead in tomorrow’s poll is the equal lowest Labour lead for many months in this series.
The poll above is compared with the YouGov poll I reported on 24 January.
Following the announcement that a future Labour Government would increase the top rate of tax from 45% to 50% a group of 24 senior British business people have written to the Daily Telegraph to attack the anti-business stance being adopted by Shadow Chancellor and Ed Balls.
The letter is as follows:
We are concerned to see Ed Balls and the Labour Party calling for higher taxes on businesses and business people.
We think that these higher taxes will have the effect of discouraging business investment in the UK.
This is a backwards step which would put the economic recovery at risk and would very quickly lead to the loss of jobs in Britain.
John Ayton, Chairman, Bremont
Karren Brady, Vice Chairman, West Ham United
Sir Ian Cheshire, Chief Executive, Kingfisher
Neil Clifford, Chief Executive, Kurt Geiger
Andrew Coppel, Chief Executive, De Vere Group
Peter Cullum, Executive Chairman, Towergate
Philip Dilley, Chairman, London First
Rupert Gavin, CEO, Odeon UK
Michael Gutman, Chief Executive, Westfield Group
Anya Hindmarch, Founder, Anya Hindmarch
Brent Hoberman, Executive Chairman, mydeco
Luke Johnson, Chairman, Risk Capital
Mike Lynch, Chairman, Invoke Capital; Founder, Autonomy
Alistair McGeorge, Chairman, New Look
Charlie Mullins, Founder and CEO, Pimlico Plumbers
Tim Oliver, Founder and Chairman, Hampden
Sir Stuart Rose, Chairman, Ocado
Rob Templeman, Chairman British Retail Consortium, Gala Coral and the RAC
Michael Tobin, Chief Executive, Telecity
Ted Tuppen, Founder, Enterprise Inns
Joseph Wan, CEO, Harvey Nichols
Will Wyatt, CEO, Caledonia
Sir Hossein Yassaie, Chief Executive, Imagination Technologies
This letter is signed in a personal capacity.
Reading Conservatives on Thursday evening elected their new Group officer team. Cllr Jeanette Skeats (pictured) was elected Leader unopposed. She was nominated by me and seconded by Cllr Jenny Rynn. Jeanette was first elected to Thames ward in 1996 and has been re-elected at each election since then. She has served as Deputy Leader under Fred Pugh, Andrew Cumpsty and, most recently, Tim Harris. She also served as Mayor of Reading in 2003/04. She has been the Conservative spokesperson on Licensing for the past seventeen years. She is currently Chairman of Reading in Bloom and former Chairman of the Caversham Court Gazebo Trust.
I was delighted to be elected unopposed as Deputy Leader; Cllr David Stevens was re-elected as Group Chairman, Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale was elected Whip and Cllr Sandra Vickers was elected as Secretary.
In her first speech to the Group as Leader Cllr Jeanette Skeats paid tribute to Cllr Tim Harris for his two years as Leader and noted that she had served each of the last three Conservative Group Leaders as Deputy at one time or another. She said, “I have enjoyed being Tim’s deputy. I thank him for all his hard work and wish him well for the future.”
Cllr Skeats continued, “I am delighted to have been elected Leader of a fantastic, talented and united team. I did not seek this position but was touched by the number of colleagues who asked me to stand. I am particularly grateful to Richard and Jenny for nominating and seconding me. I will bring my own style to the post but am keen to take on board everything that each group member has to offer. The people of Reading can have confidence that the Conservatives are here to stand up for their interests.”
Jeanette will, I know be a fantastic Group Leader, and I was pleased to nominate her to the post. She has the experience and the support of all of her colleagues to take the Group forward over the next few years.
There is a new YouGov poll in today’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead at 3%:
Conservative 35% (up 1%)
Labour 38% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 8% (down 1%)
UKIP 12% (down 1%)
YouGov polls have been jumping around this week with Labour’s lead varying between 4 and 8% until today’s 3% lead.
The poll above is compared with the YouGov poll I reported on 14 January.
The new road is south of Henley Road off the existing Ruskin development. Council officers had proposed a choice of generic road names from a pre-existing list to the December Planning Committee meeting. However, Peppard Ward Councillors Jane Stanford-Beale and Richard Willis suggested naming the road after Martin Cooper, a local resident, who sadly died aged just 49 in January 2011. Martin founded the “Masquerade Youth Theatre” group in 1992 and together with his wife Beryl, poured their own time and money into it to help hundreds of local youngsters achieve their dream of appearing on stage in over 50 musical theatre productions.
Peppard Councillor Richard Willis, who has performed on stage with “Masquerade” and was a friend of Martin, was unable to attend the December Planning Committee meeting and so asked Conservative colleague Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale to present the alternative name to the committee.
Cllr Jane Stanford-Beale said, “I was delighted to propose to the committee that the road should be named after Martin Cooper as he clearly was such an important figure locally and pleased that the committee accepted the name.”
Cllr Richard Willis said, “It is great when a road can be named after someone who has contributed a great deal to the community, especially when it is so close to where they lived. Martin contributed so much and was loved by so many people. It is great that his name will live on in such a public way.”
Martin’s widow Beryl lives on Henley Road and his parents nearby in All Hallows Road. They are all delighted at the decision of the committee and are looking forward to the name plates going up.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 50,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
There is a new YouGov poll in tomorrow’s Sun newspaper showing Labour’s lead down to just 3%:
Conservative 34% (up 1%)
Labour 37% (down 1%)
Lib Dem 9% (down 2%)
UKIP 13% (up 1%)
This poll is very much in line with today’s ICM poll in the Guardian which also had Labour just 3% ahead, and is very bad news for Ed Miliband.
The poll above is compared with today’s YouGov poll in the Sun.
There is a new ICM poll in the Guardian tomorrow showing Labour starting 2014 with a lead of just 3% after leading by 5% last month:
Conservative 32% (no change)
Labour 35% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 14% (up 2%)
UKIP 10% (up 1%)
The Guardian report links Labour’s sinking support to the rise in economic confidence. In this poll the Labour drop of 2% is matched by a rise in Lib Dem support of the same amount. It will be interesting to see whether a rise in Lib Dem support shows up in other polls at Labour’s expense. This could be deadly for Ed Miliband’s hopes of winning next year!
It is worth noting that Labour began 2013 with an ICM lead of 5%, with 38% against a Conservative share of 33%. In the YouGov polls so far this year Labour’s lead has varied between 5% and 9%, so ICM is showing a significantly worse position.
Readers are reminded that ICM is considered the “gold standard” amongst pollsters and I have therefore always given a lot more weight to their findings alongside YouGov.
ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 1,005 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 10-12 January 2014. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.