Thursday, 30 September 2010

How Not To Run a Consultation, How Not To Run a Meeting

Community Walk

A rainy Wednesday afternoon on the Wokingham Road, found a large group of wet residents who were marshalling together to march up to Maiden Erlegh school, to take part in the consultation meeting Wokingham had arranged to discuss the proposed changes to the Maiden Erlegh catchment area.

Issy and I standing in the rain holding up our banners

The weather was awful, but despite this the spirit of the group was fantastic, we chatted, laughed and looked forward to what would be a firey meeting. My youngest daughter was one of the main banner holders and my eldest was taking photos for the group. It is great to see them getting involved in a campaign that affects them both and about which they feel very strongly.

Before the meeting I was able to speak to Wokingham's lead councillor for Education, Matthew Deegan, who I had a useful conversation. Then I spent time putting residents' objections to Wokingham's Director of Childrens' Services Andy Cauldrick. They both assured me that they would answer the questions I put to them.

The meeting itself was a different matter all together. I have to say from an organisational point of view it was a shambles. There were about 400 people there and the council had not laid on any microphones for the speakers and those at the back couldn't hear properly. This did not help the assertive atmosphere, especially when it became clear that the proposal has been half baked and that hardly any children will benefit from the changes that Maiden Erlegh proposes.

When presented the plan itself is a shambles, the children who Wokingham are trying to help in the Southern part of Maiden Erlegh will be disadvantaged and our children will be completely excluded from Maiden Erlegh. It is clear that when the council began its consultation they did not include representatives from Reading and indeed not from Alfred Sutton School. This, I believe, is a breach of the Admissions Code and renders the proposal illegal.

The Officers, who were trying to present the plan, we confused and failed to convey why their plan was such a shambles. The elephant in the room is that the problem has been caused by the closure of Ryeish Green school and the Officers failed completely to admit that this was the reason for the perceived need to re write the school catchments even when this was obvious from the maps and documents that they were presenting.

In my view the meeting failed to answer questions and failed to provide any reassurance that our views will be listened to.  This makes fighting the proposal very important for all the parents of Park Ward. It is obvious that if Wokingham cannot be trusted to support Reading parents over Maiden Erlegh, they absolutely can't be trusted over Reading childrens' future in their schools. Therefore we will have to fight and keep up the pressure on the Council.