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Hundreds of parents in Reading to get help with childcare costs

childrens centre photoA major childcare package is set to help 5,050 parents in Reading, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Meri O’Connell said today.

Working families will be given up to £2,000 to ease the cost of childcare as part of a scheme to be rolled out in Autumn 2015.

The Government has said it will provide 20 per cent support on childcare costs up to £10,000 per year for each child.

For example, it means a family with two children under 12-years-old could benefit by up to £4,000 as a result.

Meri said: “Today’s news provides a huge boost to hardworking families in Reading.

“The Liberal Democrats are committed to building a stronger economy and a fairer society and this helps children get off to the best start in life.”

The Government has also said people on Universal Credit will get 85 per cent of childcare costs fully covered.

Meri added: “These measures will help parents to go to work and provide security for their families.”

£1.5m Funding Boost for Reading Schools

Tilehurst schoolLocal Lib Dems have warmly welcomed proposals which will see Reading receive £93 more per pupil in school funding than under the current system. This comes as part of an extra £350million boost to schools in the least fairly funded areas in the country.

The proposals announced in Parliament today by Liberal Democrat Education Minister David Laws will mean that funding will be allocated to local areas on the basis of the actual characteristics of their pupils and schools, rather than simply on the basis of historic levels of spending.

The proposed changes mean that, on average instead of receiving £4,454, schools in Reading will receive £4,547 per pupil next year, an increase of around 2.1 per cent, which equates to £1.5m in cash.

Commenting on the announcement, Cllr Meri O’Connell, Lib Dem Education Lead said:

“This is fantastic news for local children and is a much needed reform. The school funding system inherited by the Coalition was unfair. Labour knew it was unfair, but chose not to act.

“For too long, school funding has been based on historical data that no longer reflects pupils’ needs. Similar schools just miles apart can be funded at very different levels, just because they happen to be in different local authority areas.

“Today’s announcement, along with the Pupil Premium, will mean that our children can get the education they deserve. It is more evidence that the Liberal Democrats in government are actively implementing policies to build a fairer society.”

£5.5 million present for Reading schools

Nick with school childrenThe money given to schools to help children from poorer backgrounds is set to rise again, Cllr Meri O’Connell, the Lib Dem lead for education in Reading, said today.

The Pupil Premium – aimed at providing extra money to support youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds – is expected to increase in Reading schools to £5.5million next year.

The announcement came after new figures also revealed the attainment gap between children eligible for Free School Meals and their peers continued to narrow.

Cllr O’Connell said:

“The Pupil Premium is working and standards are improving at schools across the country as the attainment gap narrows between the poorest pupils and their wealthier peers.

“It is one of a number of Liberal Democrat polices, including the introduction of free school meals, which is aimed at helping all children improve in class.

“We believe it is crucial for a fairer society that every school pupil has a good start, where success or failure is not determined by the income of his or her parents.”

There is such a thing as a free lunch

Children say goodbye to NickMore than 350,000 children will be offered a free two course meal this week to celebrate the Great School Lunch.

The 20th annual National School Meals Week takes place from 4 to 8 November and is the biggest healthy eating awareness week aimed at children in England and Wales. The event is organised by LACA, the lead association for catering in education, which work with schools to promote healthy school meals in primary and secondary schools.

Liberal Democrats welcome the LACA initiative to get as many pupils in England and Wales to try school food rather than bring a lunch box from home.

In September Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that from next year, every child in infant school in England will receive a free school lunch.

From September 2014 all school pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, including 5,269 children in Reading will benefit from a free hot and healthy meal at lunchtime.

Universal free school meals for primary school pupils were a key recommendation in a recent review of school food produced independently for the Department for Education. The review found that, in pilots where all children had been given a free school dinner, pupils were academically months ahead of their peers elsewhere and more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime.

Schools Minister David Laws said:

“We know that regularly eating a nutritious school meal can increase a child’s educational attainment, so it is fantastic that through National School Meals Week free meals will be provided to 350,000 children.

“From September 2014 we will provide funding for all infant school pupils to eat healthy meals during the school day. Free school meals for all infant school pupils will save parents an average of £400 a year, and make sure every child can get the nutritious lunch that will help them do well at school.”

Commenting Cllr Meri O’Connell, Reading Lib Dem Education Spokesperson said:

“Every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day.

“Millions of parents across the country are feeling the squeeze. During the course of a year, the average family spends £400 on lunch for each child. We are determined to ease the financial burden for these families and give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and a fairer society.”

Plans for a new Secondary School in West Reading in Jeopardy

Cllr Meri O'Connell outside the old Elvian school

Cllr Meri O’Connell outside the old Elvian school

Why does Reading need a new Secondary school?

Since becoming the Lib Dem Lead for Education on Reading Borough Council in May 2012, I have been acutely aware of the pressure on school places in Reading. Local authorities across the country were caught by surprise when it became apparent that national forecasts for school places, based on property types, was inaccurate. The system failed largely because growth in population was not matched during the Blair and Brown years by a comparable building programme.

As a result of the revised forecast, Reading Borough Council has permanently created an additional 360 primary places to cope with projected pupil numbers. The area with the largest expected rise in growth is the densely populated urban area of Central West Reading, accounting for 58% of growth.

Why should it be on the old Elvian School site?

Central West Reading will need 9 extra entry forms in Year 7 (the first year of secondary school), by 2018. Even with all the existing secondary’s in the Central West area taking additional forms (there are 2 Reading and 3 West Berkshire Secondaries), it is clear that a new school is needed. The problem is that suitable school sites in this area are hard to find.

When it emerged that the West Reading Education Network (WREN) were proposing to develop the old Elvian School site for a new secondary school, with its existing buildings, playing fields and easy access to bus routes, I was extremely relieved that we had found a solution to the towns predicament. After meeting the WREN group I was further inspired to support them as their bid is creative and original and their enthusiasm infectious!

The alternative, at the old DEFRA  site in Coley, is unsuitable because it is much harder for those living in the Central West area to reach. It doesn’t have the space for sports facilities and students will have to travel off site for sports lessons. The DEFRA buildings are not suitable for education provision and will need complete alteration to become fit for purpose.

Why not support the plans for more houses here?

Taylor Wimpy want to build 193 homes on the site. Only an idiot would fail to agree that Reading needs more homes, particularly affordable ones. Sadly Taylor Wimpey are only planning on 23 houses and 20 flats falling into the ‘affordable’ category out of the total, this falls well short of the 50% that Reading Borough Council’s own policy says major developments should achieve.

Supporting the WREN’s school bid doesn’t mean that we don’t support housing developments, but there are many other sites that homes could and should be built on in the general Reading area (the DEFRA site being a prime example). Realistically, there is no other site, so strategically perfect for a school serving the Central West area, that could become available and then be made ready within the time needed. The bulge year groups hit secondary age in 2018.

A local resident giving evidence in support of the WREN group pointed out that there is little point in building more family homes in this area if there are no local schools for their children to go to. We need to build the infrastructure first or we will only compound the impending school places problem.

So what can you do to support WREN’s plans?

Taylor Wimpy are appealing against Reading Borough Council’s refusal of their planning application. The WREN group, supported by a wide variety of local residents and the Council are having to put their case at a public enquiry.

The first part of this was heard between the 9th and the 13th September. It has been extended to the 12th, 13th and 14th November because of the enormous number of people who wanted to speak in support of the WREN group’s proposal. WREN are asking anyone who is interested in supporting their school bid to attend on one of those days.

It is held at Reading Town Hall from 10 till 2pm each day. You can stay for the whole session or just drop in for 10 minutes to show your support. If you are only able to attend once then WREN ask that you try and come on Thursday 14th as that is when they are making their closing statements and support most needed.

One final thought…

At the close of the first part of the appeal proceedings WREN announced that they would withdraw their bid to create a new free school if they were unable to secure the Elvian site. If this school doesn’t get built we will be back to square one in planning to provide secondary education in West Reading for the bulge year groups that are coming.

Current education policy means that Reading Borough Council is not allowed to build schools, even though it knows there is real need. Money for new schools is only given to Free schools (those set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, trusts, religious and voluntary groups) and Academies. Reading needs the WREN bid to succeed, please support them by attending the second part of the public enquiry.

Cllr Meri O’Connell
Tilehurst Ward Councillor and Lib Dem Lead for Education

Free school meals for infants in Reading

Children say goodbye to NickFrom September 2014 all infant school pupils including 5,269 in Reading will benefit from a free hot and healthy meal at lunchtime.

Earlier this month Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that every child in infant school in England will receive a free school lunch.

The Coalition will fund schools in England to provide free meals for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 in a measure that will save families £400 a year per child while helping to raise school standards and cut the attainment gap.

Universal free school meals for primary school pupils were a key recommendation in a recent review of school food produced independently for the Department for Education. The review found that, in pilots where all children had been given a free school dinner, students were academically months ahead of their peers elsewhere and more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime.

At the same time, the Coalition will extend free school meals to disadvantaged students in further education and sixth form colleges. Free school meals are currently available only for eligible students at school sixth forms.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day.

“We will start with infant school pupils because teaching healthy habits young, and boosting attainment early, will bring the biggest benefits.”

Commenting Cllr Meri O’Connell, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson on Reading Borough Council said:

“Millions of parents across the country are feeling the squeeze. During the course of a year, the average family spends £400 on lunch for each child. We are determined to ease the financial burden for these families and give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and a fairer society.”

Extra funding for free early years education

childrens centre photoThe Government has today announced additional funding to provide free early years education to two-year olds across England.

From today, 130,000 two-year olds from the poorest homes will be eligible for 15 hours of free childcare a week with a nursery or childminder. That includes support for 448 2-year olds in Reading.

The Government is investing more than £500 million into childcare this year and £100 million through local authorities to create new places to ensure those children eligible right now can benefit from these places.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“From today, if you’re a parent on a low income with a two year old in the family your child will qualify for 15 hours a week of free early years’ education.

“These funded places are focused on helping the families that need them most.”

Next year the Government will be investing £760m to help an additional 130,000 two-year-olds in families on less than £16,190 a year who receive working tax credits. This will reach 352 extra 2-year olds in Reading.

Commenting Cllr Meri O’Connell (Lib Dem Education Spokesperson) said:

“This is a welcome announcement for hard-pressed families in Reading”

“This extra support for low income families in our town is a real Liberal Democrat achievement.”

“Early education helps promote a child’s physical, emotional and social development.”

Big boost for primary schools in Reading

2013 Pupil Premium Increase GraphicLiberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg has announced the biggest ever rise in the Pupil Premium for primary schools to help ensure that more pupils are able to achieve higher standards.

The Pupil Premium provides schools with extra money to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will help whole classes move forward faster together.

It will be increased to £1,300 per eligible primary school pupil in 2014/15, up from £900 per child this year. That’s likely to be an extra £1,483,600 for primary schools in Reading.

Schools will be able to spend this money in ways that they feel helps their pupils best. Evidence shows some schools use it to hire extra staff, reading and maths classes for children who need an extra hand or provide appropriate IT facilities.

Commenting, Cllr Meri O’Connell, Reading Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson said:

“All the evidence shows that if your child starts behind in secondary school, they stay behind. That is unacceptable.

“As part of the Liberal Democrats’ aim to build a fairer society, the Coalition Government is putting extra money into primary schools to help teachers support disadvantaged children.

“This boost in the Pupil Premium will help ensure we give those children a better start at secondary school, so they have a better start in life.”

Commenting further, Nick Clegg said:

“I am delighted to announce a significant increase in the Pupil Premium at primary level.

“This increase in money for every eligible primary school child will help ensure that all pupils are ready to reach their full potential in secondary school.

“This will allow all our children to get the best possible start in life.”

Notes to editors:

  1. In 2012, only 68 per cent of 11 year olds eligible for the Pupil Premium achieved the expected level in English and Maths. 84 per cent of all other pupils aged 11 achieved that.
  1. 47 per cent of pupils who did not score in the top or middle third of the Level 4 mark range in both English and maths went on to achieve at least five A*-C GCSE grades including English and maths last year.

£35,000 to help pupils in Reading catch up

8445294756_b06e15d38c_m£35,000 will help Year 7 pupils who didn’t reach the expected level in literacy and maths when they finished primary school in Reading catch up with their classmates who did.

Schools will receive £500 per pupil who didn’t reach the expected level to help them through catch-up classes and individual tuition.

Evidence shows only five per cent of pupils who don’t achieve Level 4 in both English and maths at Key Stage 2 go on to achieve five GCSEs at A* to C, including English and maths.

This extra money, announced by Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg in September at Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, is to help these children catch up with their classmates.

Schools will have freedom to decide how best to use the catch-up premium, but examples could include:

  • Small-group tuition supported by new classroom materials and resources, which could take place at lunchtimes or after school;
  • Holiday support to deliver intensive catch-up over a short period.
  • Additional services and materials to add to those provided by the school, such as tutor services or proven computer-based learning or online support.

Commenting, Cllr Meri O’Connell, Reading LibDems Education Spokesperson said:

“No pupil should be left behind in our schools, to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to get on in life. To achieve this it is hugely important that every child has a strong grasp of maths and a good reading ability when they start at secondary school.

“Catch-up classes and personal tuition are targeted at those who need a helping hand, so their chances of success are increased rather than letting them fall behind further.

“This will allow whole classes to move forward faster together by boosting pupils’ motivation which will prevent disruptive behaviour in class.

“By putting fairness back at the centre of our schools system, Liberal Democrats are ensuring that everyone can get on in life. It will allow children to flourish and will help us build a stronger economy.”

Commenting further, Nick Clegg said:

“Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life. Education is critical to that.

“The consequences of a pupil being left behind in the basics when they start secondary school can last for the rest of their education.

“The catch-up premium money being handed out to schools today will help pupils catch up with their peers as quickly as possible. Every child should have the chance to succeed and get off on the right foot when they start their new school.”

Reading children to get more Pupil Premium funding


Liberal Democrats as part of the Coalition Government have been instrumental in securing more Pupil Premium money for Reading in 2013/14.

The cash targets extra money to schools depending on the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds they have. The Pupil Premium is a major Liberal Democrat priority that is being delivered by the government.

The Pupil Premium will be worth a total of £1.65bn, or £900 per child, in 2013/14. It covers any primary or secondary school pupil that has been registered for Free School Meals in the past six years.

In Reading 259 children will benefit from this extra cash.

Commenting on the new national funding Liberal Democrat Schools Minister, David Laws said:

“Liberal Democrats are building a strong economy and a fair society where everyone can get ahead. Education is absolutely at the heart of that. The Pupil Premium is extra support for the children who need it the most, whether it is catch up classes, one to one tuition, extra IT support whatever the school thinks best. Helping the most disadvantaged children helps every child. Fewer children failing behind means less disruption
in class and a better education for everyone.”

By 2015, the Pupil Premium will be worth a total of £2.5 bn a year to schools in England.

The Pupil Premium was one of four policy priorities that the Liberal Democrats put on the front page of the 2010 General Election manifesto. The others were raising the point at which you start paying income tax to £10,000 to give people on low and middle incomes a £700 tax cut; creating jobs by making Britain greener and measures to clean up politics.

The Pupil Premium was one of the key measures argued for and secured by Liberal Democrats during the coalition negotiations.

Upcoming Events

   August  2014 »
Events on August 30, 2014
  • Reading Pride
    Starts: 12:00 am
    Ends: August 31, 2014 - 12:00 am
    Location: Kings Meadow, Napier Road, Reading, United Kingdom
Events on August 31, 2014
  • Liberal Drinks
    Starts: 7:30 pm
    Ends: August 31, 2014 - 10:30 pm
    Location: The Abbot Cook, 153 London Rd, Reading, United Kingdom


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