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Saturday, 12 August 2017 10:22

Complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman

News headlines have reported that there were more complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) against Kent education and social services last year than any other Authority, a total of 89, perhaps unsurprising as KCC is the largest Local Authority in the country. 

I have been looking at complaints about school admissions, exclusions, transport and Special Needs in Kent and Medway. For KCC and Foundation schools, but excluding academies and Free Schools which are considered elsewhere, there was a total of 35 complaints, most against Independent Appeal Panels and their decisions over school admissions. Injustice was found in just 6 complaints, most for delays in making Special Needs provision, several of which were resolved by a small financial settlement. I am anticipating one further outstanding complaint to be upheld shortly.

In Medway, one out of three complaints was upheld, again for a Special Needs issue, although no injustice was found.

 You will find details of all LGO decisions here, with details at the ‘Show Advanced Search’ at the foot of the page. There is a summary of Kent and Medway decisions for the past two years here

Complaints about academies and Free Schools are investigated by the Education Funding Agency which oversees them, so somewhat lacking in objectivity. I am awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information Request for these, but on the pattern of past outcomes I don’t expect to see any greater success rate. Because of the high proportion of schools (especially secondary) that have become academies in recent years, the sharp fall in numbers of Ombudsman complaints is unsurprising. 

Kent and Medway Ombudsman
Complaints 2016-17
 Number Closed  Upheld  Injustice
Kent
Admissions
 22  21  1  0

Exclusions

 0  0  0  0
 Transport  4  2  2   2 
Special Needs  9  2  7  4
Medway
Admissions  1  0  0  0
Exclusions
 0  0  0  0
Transport  1  0  0  0
Special Needs  1  0  1  0
 
KCC school admission complaints
All KCC Community and Voluntary Controlled Schools use a KCC Appeal Panel, organised independently of the Education Department. Where a complaint about an Appeal Panel decision is upheld, and injustice also established, the normal recompense is the offer of a fresh appeal in front of a different Panel. There may still be a few 2016-17 complaint decisions to come. The LGO will only uphold a complaint if there is demonstrable maladministration, not just because families disagree with decisions.

For complaints at ten KCC schools, no fault was found in the decision making process by Appeal Panels and so no further enquiries were instituted. In one of these a further complaint about the place allocation process was rejected. Another complaint about the waiting list process was also rejected with no further enquiries.

Seven complaints were closed after further enquiries, without fault being found, or there being insufficient fault to uphold the complaint.

The Ombudsman did not investigate a complaint about KCC’s refusal to determine the complainants' child as being of grammar ability (a common concern), as this was the responsibility of an Appeal Panel. 

An important decision was reached about a request for a school place based on KCC’s Special Reasons category. Because supporting documentation was not submitted, KCC did not consider the case, and a decision was made on distance. The Ombudsman found no fault in the KCC process, nor in the decision of a subsequent Appeal Panel which considered all the evidence.

In one case, an error was made by KCC in communicating 11+ results, but no significant injustice was caused so the investigation was closed. In another, an appeal decision letter gave wrong reasons for refusal. In this case, an apology was offered by KCC for any confusion caused.

Foundation Schools Admission Appeals
Like academies, these schools make their own arrangements for appeals, some still using KCC Panels, others going to different providers.

Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School suffered from a previous bad experience with a KCC Appeal Panel as long ago as 2011. This may still influence families into thinking it is worth complaining with little evidence of maladministration, although the school changed its appeal arrangements the following year as a result and has had no further problems. There were a massive eight complaints in the past two years, none of which were upheld, most being dismissed out of hand without further enquiries needing to be made.

One complaint was made about each of Dartford Grammar School for Girls, Dover Grammar School for Boys, Maidstone Grammar School and Maidstone Grammar School for Girls. No fault was found at any of these.

Other Kent Complaints
Two of the four Transport Complaints were upheld, both involving Special Needs Issues. Complaints about Special Needs provision often become complex, with most upheld complaints due to delays in processing Statements or Education, or Health Care Plans.
 
Medway Complaints
With all but one of Medway secondary schools, and 40% of primary schools having become academies, there were very few Ombudsman complaints.

The one complaint upheld was because ‘The Council is at fault in failing to implement the agreed remedy on an earlier complaint about failure to make provision of speech and language therapy detailed in Ms X's son's statement of special educational need. The Council will make a payment to recognise this now’.

Last modified on Monday, 14 August 2017 19:15

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