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Tuesday, 25 October 2011 19:05

Medway Test 'Thorough Investigation' becomes 'Management Improvement'.

The Report on the 'thorough investigation' into the problems with the Medway Test has now been published. Parents may be relieved to learn that "thankfully the children were not adversely affected" although the large number of complaints reportedly received by Medway Council and the Local Government Ombudsman, the record number of entries on a Medway Messenger blog (currently standing at 514)  and my own email inbox suggest otherwise.  According to Mr Les Wicks, Portfolio holder for Education at Medway Council (Serving You),.......

 

on Radio Kent Tuesday morning (8.25) the Report had been ready for some time, but "no one has come to me and asked for it"! (In a previous radio interview he expected the Report to be ready by 14th October, before reviews took place). He considered that as half the children at the Rainham School for Girls had passed the Medway Test, very few if any children would have been disadvantaged. Apparently the investigation was never going to inform the Review, its function was management improvement to ensure this type of problem never happened again. A pity that, following problems in 2008, the Ombudsman received 13 complaints about the Medway Test procedure, and as a result nine improvements in procedures had to be agreed. In 2010, the Council was in trouble again over the Medway Tests, and agreed to put into place procedures to pick up problems. Unfortunately, these appear not to have been implemented for 2011. Three years out of four!  He also considered 'Rainham School for Girls were very helpful to us'; pity the Medway Councillor who blamed it all on Rainham School for Girls' 'incompetency' was not aware of this. You can also hear me on the Radio Kent programme at 7.22 (this will be available for the next seven days).

The Report itself, at a single page, looks a little thin for a thorough investigation. The description of events was as follows: At the Chatham Grammar School for Boys centre, only one paper was given out initially instead of two. Finding the second paper took approximately 10 minutes, which was in a box obscured from view. Both papers were then given out to all pupils before the test started. The invigilator’s report states that pupils were calm during the delay. No further incident occurred and the tests finished about 10 minutes late. At Rainham Girls School, there were problems with the registration of pupils and with the resources available on site, which resulted in a delay of 40 minutes in starting the first test. Eight staff were on duty. Four supervised a group of 50 pupils in each of the four classrooms awaiting the start of the test in the Hall.  One member of staff was in the Hall, two were registering and one was supervising. Attendees were in one queue not separated into their own primary schools. Parents have described significantly greater issues than these at both centres, so one wonders which is correct. 

Having basically dismissed the issues at Chatham, the Report states that at Rainham: Problems not foreseen were: Holding rooms needed four staff to supervise; Concurrent events were on at the same time; limited toilet facilities were available; printed signs were not put out as arranged. Again, if one reads the other two articles on this website at Introduction and Update, one forms an altogether greater sense of the scale of the problems. 

The key points from the Report appear to be (I will not be held responsible for blood pressure issues amongst affected parents reading the next paragraph): The problem that occurred at Chatham Boys was due to invigilator error.  i.e. human error. This resulted in only a short delay and was not a significant issue. * The problems at Rainham were significant.  This was due to: a. Insufficient staff registeringb. Poor assessment of the location beforehand in terms of staffing, toilet facilities and refreshment, signing and communication with waiting parents. * The problems with the Rainham venue resulted in delays, which were regrettable, but thankfully the children were not adversely affected as nearly 50 per cent of the Rainham candidates passed the test.

And that is it, apart from a recommendation to consult with parents about tests being held in primary schools in future. Whilst an important question, this is clearly becoming Medway Council's ploy to distract attention away from the continuing issues that have not been put to rest by the management improvement report. Does Mr Wicks withdraw the allegation made by Susan Morris, a Deputy Director on Radio Kent on 24th September, that the problems were caused  by parents being unable to find the Sports Hall and repeated in writing and verbally several times since. This has offended parents enormously.  Indeed it is repeated in the standard response to letters of complaint sent out to parents. It appears that Mr Wicks and the Medway Council as a whole continue to assert that children were not disadvantaged as a result of the blunders. I shall be interested to see if the Local Government Ombudsman agrees with this astonishing assertion. One wonders if the parents with whom he spoke agreed with this. We are not told. At Chatham Grammar School there is a completely different version of events  described by the investigation and children. What did Mr Wicks make of this when he questioned parents? Did he speak with the parent of the child who put his hand up to complain there was no question on the English paper. This was a situation that appears to have caused problems across the examination hall for children, whereas the Medway version of events is that it was an invigilator who discovered the problem, and the matter was not a significant issue?

There is no mention of the problems that arose in 2010, when the Council agreed the following with the Ombudsman:

As a consequence of our enquiries and of the interviews, the Council has either taken the following action, or agreed in writing, to take it:

 •   It has apologised for the disruption which affected the three testing centres. It acknowledges that it is ultimately accountable for the conduct of the testing wherever and by whomsoever it is undertaken.

 •   It has provided a reasonably full explanation of the events at the centres in question.

 •   It has agreed, for future years, to issue new, clearer guidance to invigilators, and to provide training to support the guidance.

 •   It has agreed, for future years, to formalise a process for moderating its testing by providing for the possibility of unscheduled visits by officers to one or more test centres.

•      It has agreed, for future years, to consider providing an effective means for considering complaints from parents about testing issues.

 •   It has agreed, for this year, to provide statements (which will be tailored, as appropriate, to the circumstances of individual children and test centres) for appellants and any statutory Appeal Panel considering any appeals in respect of children who may have been affected by any disruption to the testing process. The statements would be to the effect that, if a child's assessment had been considered in the Medway Test Review Procedures, the Council could not say whether the review had taken those circumstances into account, and thus whether the individual child's review could be seen as having been considered fairly. The Council's statement would ask the Appeal Panel to take account of all the events mentioned in the statement, irrespective of whether the child's grammar assessment had been considered under the Medway Test Review Procedures.

 One questions the nature of the new, clearer guidance for invigilators, whether the training took part and if so, why was it ineffective. Were there unscheduled visits by officers to the centres? If so they should surely have been able to take action to minimise the problems and evaluate them so that Council statements were not false. Parental complaints this year received answers that merely  reiterated the falsehood that problems at Rainham were caused by parents getting lost, suggesting the council still does not have an effective way of considering complaints from parents. Surely any superficial management improvement  survey should have looked at these repeated failures of management? 

It appears that the main differences between a thorough investigation and management improvement are that in the latter no one is held accountable and parental views are not taken into account where they differ from  the authorised version. However, I would certainly have thought a management improvement enquiry should have covered how false statements by management arrived in the media and in response to letters of complaint by parents, and what steps should be taken in future to avoid such false statements being made, together with a mechanism to retract them (or even apologise for them!).

You will find an article by me, that appeared in Kent on Sunday, summarising the issues here.  

  

Last modified on Thursday, 18 October 2012 23:04

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