West Leigh Catchment Areas (and others!) Part 2

New information and circumstances

As time went on, I was conscious to ensure that I and my fellow Cabinet colleagues had the most up-to-date and detailed information we could possibly have to make a decision. 2016-17 birth data (for pupils due to start in Sept-21) was immerging. Therefore, I delayed the publication of this report and recommendations until the last possible minute.

We were also able to get early indication of preferences/demand for September 2018 places at the three schools (the problem of early indicative data is it can change as my officers at the Council tell me!), but I wanted to have this information to work with too. Therefore, I delayed the publication of the report and recommendations until the last possible minute.

The Decision

Things change. Data and intelligence, both soft and hard, emerge at times during a protracted exercise such as this. To plough on with what you had planned at the start, not listening to feedback from residents, not taking on board new data and not taking account of your inability to offer priority areas where changes are being made, would be foolish.

Therefore, as a result, based upon everything that I have learned over that last eight months and upon the future intelligence we have, I have come to the conclusion that making no change to the admission arrangements and catchment areas for 2019 (and onwards) for the West Leigh Infants, Chalkwell Hall and Leigh North Street catchments is the right thing to do.


This does not take away the fact, indeed I feel I must reiterate it, oversubscription will remain a challenge in the west of the town. Recent information indicates that the pressures on school places will continue to fluctuate over the coming years. This fluctuation follows the pattern of having no pattern! If it had, a decision would have been easy, obvious and understandable to those affected.

No change will in effect maintain the status quo of particular areas in the western boundaries of the West Leigh catchment, that for years of oversubscription, they will continue to be less likely to secure a school place at the school of their choice. I am very conscious of this impact, and apologise that on balance my decision will lead to this as an outcome. However, equally on the same balance, in years of less pressure they are likely to secure a place. For the other communities in Leigh, again on balance, the impact of this decision will allow them to maintain their existing links with their “community” school of choice. This decision has not been taken lightly, easily or quickly. It does however in my view take on board the intelligence we have to hand, and more importantly the views that have emerged as a result of the process from the communities.

No one said leadership would be easy. No-one said it would be quite this difficult either. I am very grateful to all those parents and professionals who took the time to offer their views and insight to help the Council come to its final position.

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West Leigh catchment areas (and others!) Part 1

Well it has been a little while since I have blogged, preferring the newer medium of Twitter for those who prefer the instant gratification of social media, rather than newsletters and face-to-face meetings.

However sometimes 140 characters (or 280 as it is now) is sometimes just not enough to say what needs to be said.

Every seven years the Council is required (for schools that are not their own admissions authority) to consult on school catchment areas, along with a number of other things.

Therefore, back in the summer, the Council decided to review the catchment areas, particularly to see if there was a way of dealing with the recent significant oversubscription in the south Leigh area, with West Leigh Infants, Leigh North Street and Chalkwell Hall Infants schools.

When we looked at this, the information we had led us to believe that this oversubscription would continue, as the birth rate data we had was over the Pupil Admission Numbers (number of places we have) for the next two years and the recent popularity of the schools suggested that we would be having more applications than births (people move into the area to go to the schools).

Some residents were delighted with the changes that were proposed, meaning that they were much more likely to get to go to their local school. Others, who were being moved out of their existing catchment area were, understandably, not so pleased.

Because of the contentious nature of the issue, I decided that the Council should have an informal consultation first (‘listening and engagement’), which led to some significant amendments to the proposals.

We were able to make some amendments, having listened to the public feedback as well as in consultation with schools (including those that are not under the Local Authority remit) – as we need to all work together in Southend to ensure a joined up education system – which formed the final model which the Council consulted on.

This included a much smaller area moving out from West Leigh Infants, with a ‘priority status’ meaning that in years of undersubscription those pupils would be the first to get any remaining places.

The knock-on impact of this meant that a number of people would need to move from Leigh North Street to Darlinghurst Primary School, as they too were oversubscribed and the number of children moving from West Leigh to Leigh North Street (as it was their next nearest school) would only increase that number. We also looked to move a number of children from Chalkwell Hall Infants, due to the forecast oversubscription there.

Consultation outcome

The proposed model formed a solution was not universally popular. 

Overall response to the consultation was narrow and focussed as would be expected. There was significant lobbying and media pressure (traditional and social media), but this did not result in strong and clear voice one way or the other. Different groups responded differently based upon their own circumstances. The number of overall responses was not as high as initial expectations may have led us to expect. In terms of a clear message, a significant number lobbied for no change, whilst a smaller, but not insignificant amount lobbied for the aspect that best suited their needs.


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Southend Conservatives’ alternative 2016 budget proposal

Click here for the Conservatives’ budget amendment proposal to the Rainbow Coalition’s proposed 2016-17 budget.

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Tonight’s Local Community Meeting (LCM)

Tonight was the LCM where the community from Blenheim Park, Chalkwell, Prittlewell and Westborough wards get to meet with the police and discuss serious and ‘less serious’ crime that has been happening in the area, since the last meeting.

 We had an update from the police, for the four wards, there have been (7th October to 30th November):

58 fewer burglaries than the same period last year. However they are carrying on Operation Insight (which concentrates on burglary) as this is the major priority for the neighbourhood police and residents alike.

184 instances of Anti-Social Behaviour (220 in same period 2014), which isn’t too bad given this includes Halloween and Bonfire Night. 

Residents raised issues of: the theft of white sacks (textile recycling), cars driving on pavements (at the Shell petrol station) to cut through the traffic lights on the A127, youths smoking cannabis (I won’t disclose the location!), bogus callers (particularly after antiques) and hoax emails being circulated and speeding in various locations.

The police took away the information and will be looking into most of these issues where they can.

We also received a short talk on crime prevention, focusing on car locks being jammed.

I haven’t had any criminal activity or major antisocial behaviour reported to me over the last 2-3 months (this is the first time I haven’t had anything to raise at a LCM or their precursor Neighbourhood Action Panel). I’d like to say it is because Blenheim Park is crime and antisocial behaviour free, but I’m sure that’s not the case – so please come along to my surgery (first Saturday of the month 10:30am to 12noon at the Old West Area Housing Office, 2 Mendip Road, SS0 0HD or email me: cllrcourtenay@southend.gov.uk and I’ll be happy to discuss any issues you have and see how I can take them forward for you.

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Blenheim Park Pavilion – update


Today Southend Council’s Cabinet met and rejected Cllr Longley’s attempt to railroad through the Blenheim Park Pavilion proposal and deferred taking a decision on this until such time as a proper consultation takes place and ward councillors (or at least the majority of ward councillors) agree with the proposal.

I would be delighted to support a Pavilion in the park – if that’s what residents want. Without giving the residents the information to take an informed decision, how can they know?

This Administration couldn’t organise a drink up in a brewery – the Deputy Leader of the Council, Graham Longley, puts a paper to Cabinet to force this through, he takes the day off (I assume to attend the exciting, but sparse, Lib Dem conference), only to find out that in his absence his Leader does his legs in. For once I agree with Cllr Woodley. Just a shame I’ve had to push so hard for this Listening Administration to actually listen!!

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Blenheim Park Pavilion: ‘Listening Administration’ refuses to listen (until it is too late)

At the meeting of the full council last night, the debate continued.

http://www.southend.public-i.tv/core/share/open/webcast/0/0/560/185976/185976/webcast/start_time/5267000 – here you can see the debate. The full debate lasts for about 25 minutes.

I asked for a response to my request for a public meeting, only to be told that I couldn’t have one – well maybe I would be able to have one, but not until the weak consultation that has been started (due to yours truly forcing Cllr Longley to undertake one) has finished!! Well that will be helpful, won’t it!

This is lining up to be Cllr Longley’s little project that he will push through regardless of my or residents views. Very disappointing.

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Recent events

Unlike many Southend political bloggers I tend only to blog when I have something interesting to say (that hasn’t already been said!). However I have been a little remiss in not publicly thanking the residents of Blenheim Park ward for re-electing me as their local councillor until 2019.

I’d like to think the fact my majority increased from 56 to 787 had more to do with my hard work and determination over the past four years than the fact there was a general election with the Conservatives having a decent result nationally. But sadly I can’t think that, as general elections do tend to sway things rather more than the local picture.

However, I do think working hard locally can pay off – yes the Lib Dem collapse and resilient Conservative vote certainly helped in Leigh, but I’m not sure that without a hardworking candidate, who had stood before so built up a little bit of name recognition for his hard work we would have crossed the finishing line first.

In Blenheim I was delighted to speak to 100s of residents personally over the campaign, with a fair number recognising who I was before I introduced myself – something that usually only Sir David Amess gets on a frequent basis.

My lack of public thanks to the residents of Blenheim can perhaps be compensated by the actions I have been taking, with housing issues, progressing the concerns of 100s of parents of Blenheim Primary School with traffic safety in School Way and trying to find a balancing act between the residents around Darlinghurst Primary School and the parents of those who attend there (PLEASE PARK LEGALLY AND WITH CONSIDERATION!). This, coupled with council activities and having to go back to my day job after a two week ‘holiday’ for the election campaign, has kept me busy.

I am delighted with my responsibilities on the council for the forthcoming year, some new ones and some that remain the same:

London Southend Airport Monitoring Working Party – I’m pleased to have been on this since its creation and I have no plans to leave it, so I can ensure that residents get the best out of the airport for the least amount of hassle (enough about that controversial subject).

Traffic and Parking Working Party – This means I will be able to deal with some of the most hotly contested issues across the town and in Blenheim in particular.

Audit Committee – Being someone who doesn’t actually find numbers dull, I quite like this committee (but that’s enough confessions for tonight!)

Place Scrutiny Committee
Planning and Development Forum
Waste Management Working Party
Southend Local Development Framework Working Party

These are all new to me – having carried on with my Children and Learning brief in opposition after two years as the portfolio holder. However my brief has changed this year to shadow Martin Terry, the Executive Councillor for Public Protection, Waste and Transport. Therefore my responsibility with these four meetings are all about ensuring Martin and the Administration are kept on their toes when delivering things such as the new Kent Elms junction crossing, the delivery of a new 15 and a half year recycling and waste contract, along with other issues such as liaison with the police service and flood defences (with important decisions coming up in Shoebury). These will be a challenge, but one I will relish, whilst still keeping a fond eye on the education standards of the town, something I have spent the past three years engrossed in.

I will be continuing my monthly in-ward surgery, something many of colleagues on the council abandoned a long time ago, only months after their election. I pledged to do it for four years and I did. I pledge to do it for another four years and I will. It is a great way for people who might not be as into technology as me to communicate, to meet residents face-to-face and to spend some quality time talking about issues that matter, rather than the fleeting conversations that happen on the doorstep.

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Southend-on-Sea local election results 2015

This is a real cheat, but why reinvent the wheel? Thanks to my political opponent in Blenheim Park for having put together this blog post and for a decent clean fight in Blenheim.

More from me soon on the elections.


PS – please note the maths is wrong in the table! The Independent Party lost two seats, so should be -2, as Ric Morgan was an Independent Party member when he stood down.

A Mad Man With A Blog

southend civic centre

Party Votes Percentage Seats before Seats after Change
CON 34,725 39.0% 19 22 3
LAB 16,963 19.1% 9 9
IND 12,560 14.1% 13 11 -1
UKIP 9,023 10.1% 5 5
LD 8,796 9.9% 5 4 -1
GRN 6,181 6.9%
Turnout 88,953 62.17%

View original post 658 more words

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Don’t forget to vote!

Four years ago, almost to the day, the people of Blenheim Park elected me as their representative on Southend Council.

Today they get the chance to kick me out or renew my mandate.

There is also that other election today, don’t forget to vote for Amess and Duddridge too!

Here starts the longest day of the year!

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Stroke of the pen means the Local Authority goes to bed Requiring Improvement but wakes up Good.

Further to my previous blog post Administration in crisis the ‘debate’ and vote was taken again at Thursday’s (23rd April) meeting of the full council, on the Corporate Performance Management – 2015/6 (basically the targets that the council sets itself for the forthcoming year).

Southend Council, like many other local authorities aspires to have 100% of its children going to schools that Ofsted deem to be Good or Outstanding (indeed that is the stated ambition of the ‘Southend Challenge’). However, we have to be practical. Therefore we set targets for the forthcoming year.

The council, under the previous Administration, set three targets – one each for primary, secondary and special schools for 2014/15 they were as follows:

2014/15 target
% Children in good or outstanding primary schools 75.5
% Children in good or outstanding secondary schools 82.7
% Children in good or outstanding special schools 94.7

This Administration decided that they wanted to set one target – amalgamated for all schools. I have no problem with this, although it can mask problems in one sector of our schools much more easily than if you have separate targets. The important thing is that the targets are amalgamated correctly.

Now, fortunately for the residents of Southend, I have the ability to add up and divide, an ability that appears to have escaped both the current portfolio holder for education and the Leader of the Council (we all know about ‘Woodley Maths’ and how it costs us money).

Looking at the table above, and appropriately weighting the figures (by taking into account the number of children at each type of school), to set the new target for 2015/16 at the same level as the three targets for 2014/5, it should be set at 79%. The most recent Monthly Performance Report shows that our schools are currently achieving 77%.

So what does this Administration decide to set their target at for 2015/6? Ah, well this is where it gets interesting. An extract from their report shows:

2014/15 target 2015/16 target
% Children in good or outstanding schools N/a 75

So they have set it at 75%. What is rather more sinister is they have compared it to ‘n/a’ for last year. Whilst, strictly speaking, there wasn’t a target for all schools last year (there were three, as above), in the spirit of showing whether targets were going up, down or staying the same, this is rather naughty (as I could do the maths on the back of the preverbal fag packet).

Here is a different way of looking at it:

2014/15 target 2015/16 target
% Children in good or outstanding primary schools 75.5 75
% Children in good or outstanding secondary schools 82.7 75
% Children in good or outstanding special schools 94.7 75

Gives rather a different perspective, don’t you think?

The difference between 79% and 75% might not sound like much, but in fact it is setting a target that says we, as your elected representatives are prepared to accept 1,154 less children going to a Good or Outstanding school, whilst still giving the current Administration a pat on the back.

Put another way, when we walked into the council chamber the council was not hitting its target. When we left it was exceeding its target. All the town’s teachers and kids were at home… so I’m not sure much could have changed other than reducing the target!


I challenged the current Administration on these targets, both at the People’s Scrutiny Committee (a couple of weeks ago) and at the council meeting on Thursday. Instead of accepting that they had made a mistake (something better Administrations than them were prepared to do when it happened), we all do occasionally, I was berated by the deputy portfolio holder who decided to tell me that because he’d got his MBE for education he knew what he was talking about.

I was content for him to answer on behalf of the Administration purely because the Leader had appointed him as the deputy portfolio holder and Cllr Anne Jones was absent again – I have not had a chance to put these matters to her at either scrutiny or full council, something I find most unsatisfactory, informed that my language was too emotive (this new target is pathetic – you don’t set yourself a target BELOW what you are already achieving- if you want to improve education for the children of this town).

Here is why it is a pathetic target:

2015/16 target Latest figures (Feb-15)
% Children in good or outstanding primary schools 75 76.9
% Children in good or outstanding secondary schools 75 77
% Children in good or outstanding special schools 75 91.7

I was also informed by the one Labour member who didn’t have a clue what she was talking about that if we rejected the paper these targets were set in, we’d have more crime and less affordable homes – what a load of rubbish, I don’t think criminals start working and builders down tools because the council hasn’t set its targets for another six weeks.

Politics was being played here. The watering down of this target was buried in the council’s overall Corporate Performance Management paper for 2015/16. I was accused of slagging off the town’s teachers (errum, I think not, I was just saying the council was setting itself too low a target!) and that targets didn’t matter, and I was putting too much stress on schools (this is a council target not a school one).

If you set a target too low, you make it easy for those working for the council to claim that the job is done. How can the councillors and Chief Executive crack the whip on the education department, when those officers can (quite rightly) turn round and say ‘well we are exceeding the targets you set us’… The simple answer is they can’t.


What was most galling of all was seeing members such as

Julian Ware-Lane (who bangs on and on about how education in this town is not good enough);

Ron Woodley (at least when a ‘child’ was in charge of education he did a better job than he is!); and

James Moyies (who seems to forget he is an opposition member and should be more worried about holding this Administration to account, than trying to keep on the good side of Ron Woodley to ensure he gets a Cabinet post in May – bye bye Martin/Mike!)

and others who had so viciously attacked me, time and time again, for education standards in Southend (at a time when they were improving rapidly) vote in favour of reducing the target.

Fortunately I demanded a named vote so we have it recorded in the annals of history which councillors voted for a pathetically low target, that we are already exceeding and failed our children, just to keep a bit of face for the current Administration.


Talking to several members after the meeting, it was disappointing that they all said they agreed with me and that the target was too low, but they couldn’t let the Administration lose the vote. It was noteworthy that at no time did the Leader of the Council accept or propose a minor amendment to the paper to increase the target, which would then have allowed it to go through unopposed. I even hear that, privately, council officers admit they set the target too low – well that’s alright then is it?!

If you think the Nigel Holdcroft and the Conservative Cabinet used to have a tight grip on what was happening in the council, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Ron Woodley and his band of merry men are prepared to do anything to not lose face.

I have never been more angry and disappointed in my political life and I was embarrassed to be a member of your council that night as, collectively, we failed you.

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