Its education, education, education at my advice surgeries this week and there is a certain balance between the two main groups of people coming to see me.
As is always the case there are those who are unhappy about their child not getting the school of their first choice and it is impossible not to feel the deepest sympathy for those who face the dilemma of not getting the school of choice and having to consider one that they would not have plumped for.
In concert with these genuinely concerned parents are another group of people who are objecting to the expansion of – mainly – primary school places in the borough.
Things used to be a lot worse in Ealing back in the 1970s when children were bussed around the borough as some schools had spaces and no pupils while others had the demand but not the means to meet it.
Thanks to some pretty sophisticated data gathering the council now has a fair idea of the school age population in the coming years and would be irresponsible not to plan for this. If the population is declining then school closures need to be considered and if it is growing then expansion comes into the frame.
Ideally every parent should be able to send their children to their local school but the situation is complicated by the fact that all schools are not the same.
Apart from the special schools there are faith and single sex schools that some parents choose and it is not always the case that these are within walking distance. In addition to Roman Catholic and Church of England schools in Ealing North there are Sikh and Hindu schools in adjoining boroughs so the situation gets really complicated when parents make the decision to apply to one of these.
There is a fundamental issue with some of our most successful schools and we all know that people will buy houses within the catchment area in order that their children can attend a high achieving place of learning. Some people feel that the exceptional character of such schools will be lost with expansion while others urge an extra form of entry as their sons or daughters wouldn’t get in otherwise.
I have a lot of time for Cllr.Ian Gibb and his colleagues who have to wrestle with this dilemma and anyone who cares about our future generations will want to see the council, and the Diocesan authorities in the case of Christian faith schools, get the balance absolutely right.
As usual there are those who claim that the whole matter is related to immigration but this ignores the very basic and provable fact that the majority of emigration to Ealing is from elsewhere within the United Kingdom.
People move to London for a whole range of reasons and I like to think that they head for Ealing because of the special qualities that make this a great place to live and learn in. Unless we are going to a system of internal passports as was the case in apartheid South Africa we can’t stop people moving to the borough and it is in all of our interests to make sure that the school system can cope – and continue to provide the very high standards that we have such reason to be proud of.
I’ve said that I have a lot of sympathy for the parents and pupils who aren’t getting what they want at the moment and I very much hope that the needs of prospective pupils can be met without causing problems for the existing school body and those living around a building that may be physically expanded.
I would also like to pay tribute to our brilliant teachers and support staff who are managing so well in the context of almost constant change. It’s never easy being a teacher or a classroom assistant but the work has to be immensely rewarding or we wouldn’t be attracting and retaining those brilliant people who are educating our children for the future.