Rob Wilson MP Presses for Higher Standards in Reading Schools
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.”
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