Meri O'Connell at The Avenue School

Lib Dem Education Spokesperson, Councillor Meri O’Connell has today slammed comments by Reading East’s Conservative MP Rob Wilson about the recent Ofsted report. Commenting, Meri said:

“How Rob Wilson has the nerve to make such damning comments about Reading Borough Council’s failure to improve GCSE results for the borough’s most disadvantaged children is beyond me. His use of our town’s children to score political points disgusts and offends me!

“It is his party that in Government has accelerated the ideological mission started by the last Labour Government to remove Local Authorities’ ability to intervene in school performance. He says that LAs should have turned these results around, whilst removing their powers to do so. It is nonsensical.

“Yes, Labour has had virtually unbroken control of Reading for decades and these results happened on their watch, but this dire situation requires cross-party solutions based on best practice from other areas where they have proved that they can narrow the attainment gap. Slamming Reading’s Labour party may feel good for those of us in opposition, but it doesn’t help those children who are relying on politicians to ensure they have an equal chance to succeed.

“Rob Wilson’s statement about Ofsted’s letter offers no constructive suggestions for improving the life chances of Reading’s poorest pupils – he simply parrots the Conservative mantra that if all schools were academies it would somehow magically transform results.

“There is no evidence that becoming an academy improves a school’s results. Whilst some schools and chains have done well following acadamisation, there is a growing body of evidence that shows Local Authority-controlled schools are outperforming academy chains.

“But Rob Wilson won’t let evidence get in the way of experimenting with our children’s futures through an unproven, hugely expensive bureaucratic distraction from the real reasons our poorest pupils are underachieving.

“Out of the 2 secondary schools in Reading that are in special measures – one is under local authority control and the other is an academy. The fact that they are both in the most deprived areas of Reading seems to have conveniently escaped his attention.

“Even the Conservatives must see the link between children who are living in poverty, whose parents struggle to balance the bills on insecure zero hours contracts, who live under the ever present threat of eviction by private landlords, who rely on food banks to put meals on the table, and their underperformance at school.  If your family is struggling daily to stay safe and warm and fed, it’s unsurprising that doing school work falls down your list of priorities.

“Education doesn’t exist in isolation and schools alone cannot make up for the circumstances that many of their pupils go back to each day. In Reading we have some amazing teachers and school support staff. They strive every day to make learning fun and relevant despite years of political interference from central government.

“The Local Authority that our MP for Reading East says is responsible for improving our schools, is the same one he wishes to abolish. Who will he blame when the acadamisation project fails to tackle the real reasons behind the failure of Reading’s most deprived children to reach their full potential?

“Let’s do what the majority of Reading residents want their local politicians to do, and stop bickering with one another, do what we were elected to do and start working together to halt this awful situation before more children suffer.”