For those caught up in it, who will ever forget the problems in year one, when parents couldn't get their cars up the icy roads to Fort Pitt, and the site became a vast sliding traffic jam, as the road had not been salted! Over the last three years, the problems have increased year on year, with the Ombudsman making trenchant criticisms, not of the principle of testing in independentl centres, but of the way Medway Council staff misapplied the process. In 2008, The council was required by the Ombudsman to come up with a number of changes in procedures because of failures in the appeals process. Following further complaints to the Ombudsman in 2010, the following outcomes were agreed by Medway Council.
- 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 would be a surprise if this happened at Rainham School for Girls this year).
- It has agreed for future years to provide an effective means of considering complaints from parents (I am not convinced from feedback that parents believe this happened in 2011)
As is very apparent from the 2011 shambles, recorded elsewhere, Medway Council chose to ignore the recommendations and went into an almighty foul up which it then tried to cover up. The Ombudsman has also been investigating this one and, although the material of his investigation remains confidential as the case has not yet been finalised, it is apparent that Medway Council will be heavily criticised once again for its failings. In the meantime, I have been trying to discover why Medway Council tried for a cover up, rather than came out and admitted their faults, through an FOI request. Read about its progress (or lack of it as Medway introduces various stalling mechanisms) here.
Reasons for keeping independent centres
The key reason is in the heading, in that everyone has the same experience, children from the same school sit together, and experienced invigilators should be able to see this is a positive experience. There are no pressures on primary schools, and children from schools that choose not to participate in the process, including some the Roman Catholic Schools or others such as Kings, Rochester, are not disadvantaged. Each year in areas where primary schools are used as centres, there are allegations that some primary centres bend the rules in different ways. Because there are no issues with primary school expectations, all children take the test on the same day, ensuring late comers are not at an advantage through leakages in the test. Placing the tests back into classrooms means that the education of all children (not just those taking the Medway Test) is disrupted for two school days, whereas in the independent centre, it took place on the same Saturday for all children. All this has been thrown away solely because of Medway Council's maladministration. It is particularly noticeable that there was no great pressure to return to primary schools in previous years, until the 2011 shambles, but I believe the Council has taken this route in order to bury the problems and to avoid any such future scandals.
Reasons for changing to Primary School centres
The key reason is that for MOST children, the primary school is a friendly and familiar environment, where they can give of their best with a minimum of pressure, overseen by staff they know well. The tests can take place over two days, reducing the pressure and the stamina required. Some children where their primary schools are not appropriate or willing to co-operate will still be tested on the following Saturday. There is a particular issue in Medway with the English Test, that will have to be changed to avoid the subject being passed on, so children are being assessed on different tests. For Medway Council there is the strong advantage that any foul ups are on a smaller scale and will not be their responsibility. It appears that the original reason for departing from this model, the unwillingness of teachers to co-operate is no longer an issue - if it ever was. Certainly if one looks at the Kent experience, the biggest problems have been in the independent centres catering for out of county candidates and others mainly from private and Roman Catholic Schools not keen to see their children progress to grammar schools. There remains a debate between parents of children who experience the two different assessment methods, as to which is preferable.
I appeared on Radio Kent this morning (Saturday 18 Feb) along with a recorded interview with Les Wicks, Portfolio Holder for Children's Services in Medway. In the Medway Counci News Item on the subject, he had stated: “Our main concern is always to do what is best for Medway children and I’m glad to see support for the proposal to return the test to local schools. By moving the test back to primary schools, I believe children will be able to benefit from taking the test in a familiar environment where they are more likely to perform to the best of their abilities.” As the test is desgined to select exactly 21% of children the numbers can;t rise under the changes. He also explained that schools had not yet authorised the decision for individual establishments (so some may choose not to co-operate) and, to avoid using teachers outside invigilators would be brought in to supervise the tests. If just one outside invigilator is employed for every school, this would total 62 invigilators, but some schools with large numbers of candidates will need to have more. As any examination of the problems of recent years shows, the main issues are Medway Council's management of the ten independent centres, and also the quality of some invigilators (with apologies to the many who do a good job). Given that with the independent centres, testing took place on a Saturday when many possible invigilators would be available as this is not a working day, one wonders where this large pool of able supervisors will come from for two normal working weekdays.
I am quite clear. I believe that what parents want above all is a well managed fair process. The independent test centres concept could have provided this but failed because of poor management by Medway Council over several years. Similarly, testing in schools will work with proper management of the process, and we must just hope that Medway gets it right for once, although the precedents are not good.