Do you think it is important that your decision tonight is based on facts?
Thank you Toshiko and thank you for meeting with me last week.
Executive decisions are taken following consideration of Officer reports presenting national and local context (as appropriate), options, financial considerations and recommendations. Statements of facts are clear as part of these considerations.
The recommendation to consider the expansion of the school was based on evidenced demand for school places in Earley. In particular the position in 2015/16 when 30 Earley children had to be found places outside of the Earley area due to the lack of local school places;as you know and we have discussed several times.
In 2016, the following year, the facts were that despite offering 30 additional places at Loddon School in Earley all Earley school places were allocated and once again a number of children living in the Aldryngton primary school designated area could not be offered places at this local school and also we have expanded Hawkedon in 2012 as well and that was an extra 20 places within the Earley area as well.
So the recommendation not to proceed with the Aldryngton expansion project is based on the actual number of applicants; information that could only become available at this point in the admissions process. Again this is factual information.
At the Planning Committee we saw decisions being made based on misleading or at the very least inaccurate information about school placed demand. Unfortunately because the format of the Committee prohibits any interaction we could not point out the number of false statements that affected the Committee’s decision. Basically they focussed, I think, on the last two years where there were unfortunately some pupils who couldn’t be offered Aldryngton places, although they lived in the catchment area, but that doesn’t mean that the situation will always be the same as the last two years.
In the public document pack for this meeting there are a number of notable errors and omissions eg on page 5 of the pack it is stated “the number of applications for reception places in Earley has not increased as projected”. At no point has Wokingham Borough Council projected an increase in reception application numbers in Earley for 2017. In fact the Council projected that there would be a year on year fall in demand this year and a surplus of places in Earley. Similarly the summary of statutory consultation responses contained in the pack contains a number of significant omissions. In our view the information in the public document pack does not meet Department for Education requirements specified in a strategy consultation process. Do you agree that you are happy for us to raise hands and present facts when false or misleading information is presented to the Executive during the meeting tonight?
Thank you for raising a number of issues. In terms of the planning consideration it was a full Planning Committee and I know that a number of people made representations on behalf of the School and also people made representations against the planning application and for the planning application and that was considered in the way that a normal planning application would be considered. I know that some members who represented themselves at that Planning Committee were unhappy with some of the things that were said there and they can make a complaint to the Council about that and I know that some people may wish to do so but there was evidence produced to support the application at that Committee.
The recommendation tonight is, as you know, not to go ahead with Aldryngton so that is the recommendation today and it also says in the recommendation it is “subject to further consultation”. So you may think that the consultation has not been satisfactory but I would disagree but it is subject to further consultation and review of alternative options for growth as well.
In terms of the numbers of pupils coming through we have always said, and I want to reiterate that tonight, that this expansion would only go ahead if the numbers of admissions were sufficient to demonstrate that this expansion was needed. We have always been factual and honest in saying that school place planning was not an exact science but the figures we have used, and we have got a number of different sources of data and we have used all of those to the best of our ability to bring them together, to form a coherent strategy to try and project the numbers that we need in the whole of Earley and, indeed, throughout the whole of the Borough. If we do not plan ahead then we risk not meeting our statutory duty to provide enough school places. The reality for parents, when this actually happens in a specific area, is really heart wrenchingly gutting and highly impractical on a daily basis. Whilst I am lead Member for Children’s Service I will doggedly plan ahead to continue for school places in the right places at the right time so that we don’t risk parents having the risk of not having enough places at the right places and at the right times.
So tonight I am satisfied that other Members of the Executive have all the information available and I am satisfied that members of the public and parents of the school have had an opportunity to enter this consultation. We have held a consultation meeting at Maiden Erlegh and I know that many of the faces that are out there tonight have taken part in that consultation process. All of the information has been available for Members to look at in terms of the responses back.
The recommendation tonight is for Members of this Committee not to approve the Aldryngton expansion this year. If the recommendation comes back to the Executive at a later date for expansion everyone will get the opportunity once again to review evidence and there will be further consultation. You will get another chance to put in comments and another chance to air your views about the expansion of this project and the data and the evidence supporting to go ahead with this. At this time, as I reiterate again, the recommendation is not to expand it this year.
The Leader of Council stated that unfortunately we have a formal process in our Constitution that does not allow us to have that interaction here. I know that is probably sad for you but it is just the way we operate.