Kent 2009 Admissions
The full letter for Kent relating to 2009 admisssions and appeals can be found here.The relevant paragraphs are:
Of the 29 local settlements, 25 were education complaints. The largest group of local settlements, 21, concerned applications and appeals for admission to schools where the Council is the admissions authority. The faults included wrong or insufficient information being presented to appeal panels, inappropriate questioning by panellists and poor record keeping. In 14 cases the Council agreed to settle the complaint by the offer of a fresh appeal hearing. In five cases the Council offered a place at the preferred school. I found fault in four other admission cases but used my discretion not to pursue these as I was not satisfied that any injustice had been caused. During the year, four of my staff met officers from the Council’s corporate complaints section and its education department. They discussed identified problems in the way the Council arranges appeals (both for its own schools and in the appeal service that it provides for voluntary aided and foundation schools). They also discussed some delays in responding to our enquiries and resistance to settling complaints. The meeting was useful. As a result, two of my staff took part in three training sessions the Council organised for panellists, presenting officers and appeal clerks for all types of schools.
I settled four other education complaints. Two concerned a failure by the Council to provide education while a child was out of school. The Council paid a total of £1,450 compensation. The second concerned the Council’s failure to state that it would not pay for transport to a school named in a statement of special educational needs. The Council agreed to provide transport following my involvement. The last concerned a number of faults in the way the Council dealt with a child’s special educational needs. As a result he lost half a year’s education which had an impact on him and his mother, who was unable to work while she cared for him at home. The Council paid £5,000 compensation.
Kent 2008 Entry
I decided 58 complaints about applications and appeals for admission to Community and Voluntary Controlled schools, where the Council is the admissions authority. One complaint was outside my jurisdiction. In 23 complaints, there was no, or insufficient, evidence of maladministration and, in 20 others, I used my discretion not to pursue an investigation. I agreed to settle 14 complaints. In a number of appeals, the written cases presented on the Council’s behalf contained mistakes and, in others, the Panels took account of irrelevant factors in reaching their conclusions. In eight cases, a place at a preferred school was offered to a pupil, by various means including a successful appeal. The Council offered a rehearing, with a completely different Appeal Panel and a different Clerk, in respect of the appeals of six other pupils. Nevertheless, the Council was reluctant to accept our recommendations that some appeals should be reheard, and more resistant to our suggestion that, in a very exceptional case where the Council and the Appeal Panel had been at fault, the Council should exercise its discretion to admit the pupil without requiring a further appeal. The Council has agreed to review a range of procedures and published material relating to applications and appeals for school places.
The average time taken by the Council to reply to our written enquiries about complaints was 38.1 days. This represents a significant deterioration, compared with the time taken last year (29.4 days) to respond to our enquiries. Delayed responses were not confined to any particular departments. I hope that the Council will make every effort to achieve the target (28 days) which we set for responding to our first written enquiries.
The Council’s responses to our enquiries as well as being slow do not always provide full answers to the questions raised. This can lead to the need to make further enquiries. While some responses have been thin, others have contained an excess of detail. On occasion the Council is reluctant to offer to settle complaints. Some of the Council’s responses on admission appeal cases have been incomplete, with pages missing from Clerks’ manuscript notes of Admissions Appeal Panels. Our concern about the quality of responses applies not only to complaints about appeals where the Council is the admissions authority for the school in question, but also where the Council provides an appellate and clerking service on behalf of the Governors of Voluntary Aided and Foundation schools who are their own admissions authorities
Medway 2009 Letter
For Medway, the full letter can be found here. The relevant sections read:
Two complaints concerned education. In one the Council failed to update a statement of special educational needs, to reflect a child’s move from a residential school to the 6th form of a mainstream school. The move subsequently broke down. The Council paid £1,000 compensation. I asked the Council to review its procedures to ensure that statements are updated. The Council told me that it was satisfied that its procedures are sufficiently robust. This is a matter I will review in the light of any similar complaints. In the second the Council agreed to offer a re-hearing of an education admission appeal, in the light of some concerns about the way an application to a grammar school had been dealt with. In the event the complainants were successful in obtaining a place at another school and so did not pursue the fresh appeal.
There were no School Admission Ombudsman complaints.
Medway 2008 Letter
I decided 22 complaints about educational issues. I found no maladministration on four school admissions complaints and I used my discretion not to pursue investigations into two others as well as two complaints about general educational issues.
I agreed to settle 13 education complaints. Ten of these related to failures in the arrangements for school admissions. The complaints were settled either by school places being offered to the children or by re-hearings for the parents. One of my Investigators subsequently visited the Council to discuss its school admissions arrangements and a number of changes have now been made which should help to avoid similar problems from occurring in future years.
The average time taken by the Council to reply to our written enquiries was 40.2 days, which is significantly higher than the time target we set and continues the upward trend of the past few years. It also compares unfavourably with the performance of other unitary authorities, only 9% of which have an average response time of 36 days or longer. As in previous years there were some very significant delays on a small number of complaints.
Of the 34 complaints on which we made enquiries, only seven of the responses were within the target time.
One of my Investigators visited the Council in August 2008 to discuss the Council’s procedures for complaint handling.The Council has subsequently confirmed that on-line reporting and case management control systems have been refined to give greater focus to response times and to identify delays at an earlier point within the process. It does not appear that this has yet resulted in any significant improvement. The high level of local settlements (46.4% of those within my jurisdiction) suggests that the Council’s own procedures for dealing with complaints may not be as robust as they could be, and that it may be reluctant to accept fault or not be prepared to offer an appropriate remedy until pressed to do so.