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Friday, 29 September 2017 22:49

Ombudsman confirms Maidstone Girls' Grammar has operated unlawful Sixth Form Admission rules for years

Back in January, I published an article reporting that the Maidstone Grammar School for Girls (MGGS*) Sixth Form Admission process was unlawful, along with the now demonstrably unlawful actions of Invicta Grammar in expelling Year 12 students not on target to achieve the highest A Level grades. MGGS head Deborah Stanley reportedly said in a statement issued to local media: "I would like to make it clear the comments about our admissions are unfounded. As a school we adhere to and have admitted students into our sixth form in accordance with our admissions policy."

Maidstone GSG

The Local Government Ombudsman has now carried out an investigation, following a complaint by me on behalf of one of the students affected, and has published his findings. These make clear that Mrs Stanley’s reported statement is untrue, that the admission process has been unlawful for some years, that MGGS now accepts their process was unlawful, and that the KCC Panel hearing at the heart of my complaint was so seriously flawed that panellists are required to undertake further training.

It is not possible to quantify the number of students affected, as it is likely that most turned down by the illegal process did not pursue their applications and were lost to the school. 

You will find the details of MGGS's unlawful actions here, as the school sought to select the best performing external Sixth Form candidates by setting  an artificially high entry requirement of forecast grades, based on references from the candidates' home schools.  You will find details of the process operation below.  It appears that no such rule was applied to internal students who were admitted according to the legal requirements of the school admission policy, so this became discriminatory, which is also unlawful.

For 2016 entry, the school made 161 provisional offers in March from the 329 external applicants, the remainder being placed on a waiting list, including many who had grade forecasts that met the school’s official academic requirements. The admission arrangements state that all external candidates should be offered a meeting to discuss possibilities in January or February, but many were not invited, presumably having been discarded for provisional places well before offers were made - so yet another breach of admission policy.

In the end, with a target figure for 200 internal and external candidates, just 174 places were taken up, including all on the waiting list who had not been put off but had achieved required grades. This makes it a very disappointing outcome for the school, with a huge loss of 162 students from the potential pool of internal Year 11 students and those external applicants who had received provisional offers.  

Provisional External Offers
The offer process for external students was operated through a conversion of  forecast GCSE Grades to Average Point Score, known as APS . Thisis calculated by assigning a certain number of points to each GCSE grade – an A* is worth 58 points, A 52, B 46, C 40, D 34, E 28, F 22, and G 16. Totals are then divided by the number of pupils sitting the tests to provide an average. The APS for external pupils was set at 48, higher than an average B Grade at GCSE. No such requirements existed or exists in the school’s admission policy, which set the bar at four B Grades out of six at C Grade or better (together with specifics for some individual subjects).  Now that it has been exposed, the school has decided not to consult on using the APS model for 2018/19. 
 
The Appeal
The Appeal Panel failed its duties in a number of areas. The parent and appellant are referred to as Mr A and B in the sections below.
  1. The Panel accepted the school’s illegal admission criteria as lawful.
  2. The Panel focused on issues that were not germane to the case, relating to individual subjects, without examining the school’s case.
  3. As a result, the Panel failed to focus on which courses were potentially available for B, or to see if an exception could be made in his case.
  4. The Appeal Panel notes fail to explain how it determined the School case was reasonable. 

Unfortunately, by the time the Ombudsman found and ruled on the maladministration in the Appeal Panel decision, too much time had passed, and there was no point in arranging a fresh appeal as B had begun an A Level course in another school.

The school did however offer a place to B to begin the Sixth Form course in September 2017, as achieved grades met admission criteria that had been slightly revised for this year.  However, B quite reasonably did not wish to lose a year and has remained in the new school.

Agreed Action after the LGO Investigation (quotation from Ombudsman Report)

  1. The School will no longer use the APS to make conditional offers and will follow its published admission arrangements. The School must do this; otherwise, its admission process will be unlawful. If it wishes to use an APS as part of its decision-making, it must amend its published arrangements to reflect this and follow the statutory consultation process.
  2. Kent County Council has arranged further training for independent appeal panel members. The Panel must apply the correct test for admission arrangements and decisions, with close reference to the statutory guidance. The Panel must also ensure it carefully considers the evidence when a school’s decision is based on academic requirements, and must clearly record the reasons for its decision.
  3. The School agreed to write to Mr A and B to apologise for not applying its admission arrangements correctly and failing to make B a conditional offer, and for how the independent appeal panel considered this matter.
  4. I recommended a financial remedy of £250 for Mr A. This is to recognise the unnecessary confusion and uncertainty the School’s actions caused both him and B, and to acknowledge his time and trouble in pursuing the complaint. The School agreed to make this payment.

 
Complaints about Admissions and Admission Appeals
It is proving increasingly difficult to achieve success with a complaint about admission processes or appeals. For 2016-17, there was just one other successful Ombudsman complaint about school admissions in Kent out of 15, and in the case of academies, where the data collection is different, there was just one case out of 21 where maladministration was shown, but without injustice.
 
Conclusion
This complete shambles was initially brought about by the school operating unlawful admission criteria for external candidates to the Sixth Form, which have operated for some years. It was then compounded by the headteacher’s reported refusal to admit fault when I demonstrated it very clearly, and the school’s subsequent attempt to deny and cover up the illegality. The school then gave this false evidence to a supposed Independent Appeal Panel that shut its eyes to the facts, through its support for the school against the appellants, which denied them a fair hearing.
The process clearly inhibited potential candidates from pursuing their applications so, rather than expanding the Sixth Form towards its target, numbers actually declined. I do not have the data to differentiate between the number of internal and external students who joined the Sixth Form, but anecdotal evidence suggests there was a high leakage of members of Year Eleven from MGGS to other local school Sixth Forms for 2017 entry. Surely, this must raise serious questions for the school management, especially as  data for previous years suggests this may be typical.
 
One can only wonder what the MGGS Governing Body, which has overall responsibility for the school,  thinks of all this.
 
Note: *Whilst the name of the school is Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, its website address is http://www.mggs.org, its email address also contains MGGS, so these are the initials it is normally referred by. The initials MGSG generally relate to Mayfield Girls' Grammar School in Gravesend. 

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 October 2017 04:51

1 comment

  • Comment Link Sunday, 01 October 2017 17:49 posted by Happy Ex Maidstone Girl

    I am in Year 12 at Oakwood Park, joining from MGGS in September with good GCSE results. I could have stayed on, but didn't want the pressure. Something needs to be done for the many girls whose mental health is suffering. I am free and enjoying school for the first time in years. PETER there is a real issue here, with mental health high on the national agenda. Both Maidstone girls' grammars are in the small group of girls' schools in Kent and Medway who don't appear to care about the casualties in their stampede for top results. Surely someone in these schools can see the damage being caused. Parents need to speak out, it is not a matter of shame if their daughters can't cope with the pressure. It is the school and if nothing is done, then there will be more, who won't get through it like Happy Ex Maidstone Girl

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