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Wednesday, 13 April 2011 12:21

Ombudsman Decision on Medway Test and Review Failings

The Medway Tests for Entrance to Grammar School in September 2011 had problems in two Test Centres this year. Children from a number of primary schools who sat the test at Chatham Grammar School for Boys had their test papers collected in early and then they were given out again, causing disruption, and children at the other centre were the victims of disruptive behaviour by some of the candidates. My advice was to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman and he has recently concluded his investigation....

In the Medway Secondary Transfer Scheme, where a child is unsuccessful in the Medway Test, the parent can choose whether their child should be considered under an optional Review process for unsuccessful candidates, a choice which parents often find confusing and discouraging for reasons I have set out here. Where a child's parents opted for a Review after the child was caught up in one of the problem centres, Medway Council agrees it was unable to say whether the Medway Test Review Procedure took the circumstances of any disruption into account and thus whether the individual child's review can be seen as having been considered fairly. As I explain at the link above, if a child is unsuccessful at Review, an Independent Appeal Panel (IAP) can only consider the child's academic case to be admitted to grammar school if that Review is considered unfair by the Panel.

 


If Medway Council cannot say whether the Review process is fair or not for those children, I cannot see how an IAP can decide it is fair, although of course they have a legal right to do so. In such a case, I am sure that any unsuccessful appellant would have a strong case to return to the Ombudsman.

In his decision the Ombudsman makes clear that there are a number of faults with the process and has reached agreement with Medway Council on these. It is evident that the Council has fully cooperated with the Ombudsman as distinct from previous years and under different management, when it appeared to me that any complaint, however valid it has appeared, has been robustly rejected by the Council, often setting up a confrontation with distressed parents.

  • Medway Council has accepted responsibility and apologised for the failings, even though not directly involved in the testing invigilation. 
  • It has agreed in future years to provide training and guidance for invigilators (not before time)
  • It has agreed to moderate testing centres.
  • It has agreed for future years to provide an effective means of considering complaints from parents.
  • It is sending statements on each case where there was a complaint, to the IAP, who can then decide what weight to give to it.

The IAPs will then have the following extra issues to consider:

1) For those appellants who complained, was the Review process fair? Given the Council's view I would be very surprised if they do find it fair.

2) For those appellants who did not complain, some of whom were affected and some were not, was the Review process fair? I think it would be difficult, but not impossible for them to decide the process was fair for these candidates as there is so much confusion about the whole issue. If they do find it fair, I can foresee complaints to the Ombudsman about discrimination.

3) for all affected candidates, the IAP will have to decide what weight to give the problem in its consideration of whether the child was of selective ability. Again I can see further complaints if the Panel gives this insufficent weight..

One more complication. Fort Pitt and The Rochester Grammar School have been Academies since before this process began and so any complaints go the Secretary of State for Education, a whole new ball game, especially as one does not know how prepared his Department is to receive them. Chatham Grammar School for Boys and The Math became Academies on 1st April, part way through the process and it is unclear where complaints should go.

I just feel so sorry for parents, and more importantly their children, as they try and pick their way through this mess. Spare a thought also for the Appeal Panel members, all volunteers offering service to the community, who have to unscramble this.

There is of course a part solution for future years. The Review process in Medway is an appalling scheme requiring parents to make a difficult gamble on their child's future education, about whether to go through with a Review or go straight to appeal. Officers are at present in the middle of their own review of the process. Why not abolish the Medway Review or replace it with a scheme such as the Kent Headteacher Assessment process which avoids the pitfalls.

For reference I have a list of ten reasons why I consider the Review process unfair which I share with my clients. As these surface at appeals, IAPs should also take them into account for all appellants. In recent years, the Independent Appeal Panels at Rainham Mark Grammar School, The Rochester Grammar School and Fort Pitt Grammar School find the Review process fair, the Panels at Chatham Grammar School for boys, Chatham Grammar School for Girls and The Math have found it unfair; what a farce!

Last modified on Thursday, 18 October 2012 23:02

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