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Monday, 03 July 2017 11:36

Medway Council: Incompetent Again and Contemptuous With It

Written by

Update 7 July: Four weeks ago Medway Council was issued with an Enforcement Notice by the Information Commissioner's Office following its failures 'to  take  appropriate  organisational measures against the unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data' such that 'the likelihood of distress to the data  controller's  data  subjects is self-evident'. This follows warnings of failure in process in 2014 and 2015. See below- what a shambles! 

For over two months I have been trying to obtain an update on the appalling 2014-15 figures for Medway school permanent exclusions, together with numbers of children on Elective Home Education. According to government figures there were 55 secondary exclusions that year, the highest rate in the South East of England, and the 14th worst in the country. Compare this with the 57 in Kent, a county six times as large.

Medway

Ten days ago I wrote an article about Medway Council’s decision to ignore my two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for up to date figures, causing me to request an Internal Review of the situation. I have now received a superficial and implausible explanation of events from Gayle Jones, Information Governance Manager for Medway Council reporting on the ‘Internal Review’, which only manages to compound the Authority failures. This was accompanied by ‘Final’ replies to my FOIs which seek to hide the information through vague references to ‘data protection’, even when there could be no valid justification. Not one of the six questions I put is properly answered.

Hundred of Hoo

The stupidest response is to deny me information on the grounds that it has been sent to Government who now own it, and it is to government I must go to find a response! If this decision were to be upheld by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), to whom I have now complained, then Councils up and down the land could apply this exemption widely and conveniently to hide information. Presumably if the data is no longer Council property, it cannot be reported to Medway Councillors as such! However, you will also find the silliest response below.

The whole looks as if it was dashed off to provide a trite and contemptuous dismissal of my concerns and enquiries without any attempt to review or check the facts, by someone who simply did not care, except to hide embarrassing figures. Surely not the role of an Internal Reviewer.

It is my intention to look more closely at Medway’s Permanent Exclusion and Elective Home Education data, when I receive it as a result of my Complaint to the ICO.

The Internal Review
This seeks to explain the whole debacle by blaming it on the  Council's Education Department which apparently failed to look in the right database for the answer to one of my questions. Then, instead of looking elsewhere they just forgot about it, along with the other questions I had asked as well! They then ignored a request from a Medway Information Governance Officer, Lynne Bush, to action my request urgently although presumably she did not pursue this instruction as nothing further happened. However, I am assured that as a result of my request a new system has been put in place to check systems are working 'thereby cutting the likelihood of a repeat of the unfortunate circumstances noted above'. Doesn't sound much of a system, if all the new system does is reduce the likelihood of a repeat!  

When I submitted my request for an Internal Review, I put in a third request for the information which was again ignored until I was sent the outcomes of the Review, including the two FOIs below. 

Freedom of Information Request MFOI001173
The Request, and Council Responses (in red) are as follows:

I am requesting the following information under FOI for the academic year 2015-16.

For each primary, secondary and special school and academy separately. Please break numbers down further by Year Groups.

The request is for:

1) the number of permanent exclusions for each school
Exclusion data is reported to the Department of Education via the School Census and is then published annually in arears, at Local Authority level. As the Department of Education is the proper owner of this information requests for school level data should be made to them.  This information is also published in the underlying data table of the Exclusion Statistical First Releases
 
2) & 3) The number of managed moves out; The number of managed moves in There were 45 Managed Transfer Requests – I am unable to break it down further due to data protection.
 
4)The number of children leaving to become home educated = 377  - I am unable to break it down further as requested due to data protection
My Own Responses
1)  As explained in the introduction, the consequences for the principle of Freedom of Information if this were true would be catastrophic.  In addition, the amplification is false as the underlying data table of the Exclusion Statistical First Releases published by the Department for (not ‘of’ as stated) Education, does not contain school level data as claimed. In the latest table published, for 2014-15 data, the reason for the attempt to cover up the data appears quite evident. Medway had the 14th highest rate of permanent secondary school exclusions in the country, and the worst in the South East of England, as recorded in a previous article.
 
2)& 3) I asked for a school by school breakdown. The sensible convention usually adopted by Medway Council is that groups of children lower than four are not named, as this could lead to individuals being identified. Dismissing all detail as ‘due to data protection’  leaves us in ignorance of whether any school has a figure larger than three. The data for Question Four below shows the value of this.

 4) This is the silliest answer of all, as the data is provided in full on a school by school basis in response to my second FOI (below), supplied by Medway Council in the same email reporting back on the Internal Review. It therefore demonstrates conclusively that the vague term ‘data protection’ should not ever be used without justification of the reasons. The consistent practice with those FOI requests turned down by KCC or Government is rightly to provide such justification. 

However, the total figure is certainly alarming, at 377, up from 95 four years ago, the latest figures I have. This is nearly half Kent’s total of 770, a county six times as large.

Freedom of Information Request MFOI001174
The Request and Council Response are as follows:

For each Medway school separately with 4 or more pupils leaving to become Educated at Home, I request the number of  pupils leaving in the period, and the school Year Group from which they left. I am requesting the following data for the academic year 2015-16,

There were 199 children withdrawn from the Primary Sector during the academic year 2015-2016.  I am unable to do a complete breakdown as requested due to data protection. Numbers less than 4 have been omitted

Out of Area 28
Napier Community Primary 15
Luton Junior 12
Lordswood School 11
Cedar Independent* 10
No Previous School 10
Stoke Community School 10
Warren Wood Academy 10
St Margarets at Troy Town 8
Featherby Junior School 6
Gordon Academy 5
All Faiths Primary 4
Cedar Primary School 4
Delce Academy 4
English Martyrs Primary School 4
St James C of E Primary 4
St Margarets Infant School 4

Note *The Cedars was a small private Christian evangelical school age range 4-16 with 15 pupils that closed in November 2015. I assume that Medway Council was given responsibility to place pupils, with 10 children taking up ‘Home Education’. 

There were 178 children withdrawn from the Secondary Sector During the academic Year 2015-2016. I am unable to do a complete breakdown as requested due to data protection. Numbers less than 4 have been omitted

The Hundred of Hoo Academy 31
Rainham School for Girls 14
The Robert Napier School 14
Out of Area 13
The Victory Academy 13
Walderslade  Girls School 12
Strood Academy 11
The Thomas Aveling School 11
St John Fisher Catholic School 10
The Howard School 7
Brompton Academy 5
Sir Joseph Williamson Maths 4

and for 2016-2017 to date.

There have been 68  children withdrawn from the Primary Sector so far this  academic year 2016-2017.  I am unable to do a complete breakdown as requested due to data protection. Numbers less than 4 have been omitted  - therefore there  is no table to view

There have been 112 children withdrawn from the Secondary Sector so far this academic year 2016-2017. I am unable to do a complete breakdown as requested due to data protection. Numbers less than 4 have been omitted.

Previous School Number withdrawn
Hundred of Hoo Academy 23
Walderslade  Girls School 13
Rainham School for Girls 12
Out of area 10
Strood Academy 9
The Victory Academy 6
The Howard School 5
Brompton Academy 4

 

My own responses
The Authority has ignored my request to break these figures down by Year Group, although this information was provided the previous time I asked for this information – 2013/14 and I have now had to ask it again through the ICO. This is highly significant data as there is considerable evidence that some schools use EHE as a device to improve GCSE performance by unlawfully encouraging the practice. In any case, I am unable to explore this situation more closely at present, as I am waiting for census information from another FOI request, that Medway Council has once again ignored!

The serious situation in Medway is illustrated by the comparisons below. There is growing evidence that in some schools, families are encouraged by the school to opt for EHE for their children, which would be unlawful. As a result, questions should be asked by Medway Council about those schools with the highest numbers of EHEs,  as is starting to happen in Kent.  

The comparison is: whereas Medway has 10 Primary schools with five or more children leaving for EHE in 2015-16, headed by Napier Community Primary with 15 children being opted out to EHE, Kent (with six times as many schools) has just three, with none losing more than seven children.

At secondary level Medway has 10 out of its 11 non-selective schools with five or more children leaving for EHE in 2015-16, headed by Hundred of Hoo with 31 children not being schooled, compared with Kent, 41 out of the  69 non-selective schools, headed by Homewood School with 22 pupils.

Hundred of Hoo Academy has also seen 23 children depart for 2016-17 up to Easter, and so is likely to rise significantly higher. It is run by the Williamson Trust, sponsored by Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, the only grammar school in Kent or Medway to make the lists, with the families of four children choosing EHE. 

Enforcement Notice Issued by the Information Commissioner's Office to Medway Council, 7th June 2017.
The Information Commissioner's Office has served an Enforcement Notice on Medway Council in its capacity as Data Controller with responsibility for processing personal data collected by the Council. This follows two routine audits in 2014 and 2015, that provided 'limited' assurance' and made recommendations for training. The above article is an indictment of the outcomes of any training.
 
 The ICO has now carried out an investigation of two failures of the Data Controller's Compliance, where the Council 'failed  to  take  appropriate  organisational measures against the unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to,  personal data. The Commissioner considered, as she is required to do under section 40(2) of the DPA when deciding whether to serve an Enforcement Notice, whether any contravention has caused or is likely to cause  any  person damage or  distress. The Commissioner took the view that the likelihood of distress to the data  controller's  data  subjects is self-evident'. Rightly, there is no indication of the nature of these security breaches. 
 
As a result, the Information Commissioner requires that Medway Council shall within 6 months of the date of this Notice take steps to  ensure that:
1)
  1. there is a mandatory data protection training programme for staff and refresher training  at least every  two  years. Delivery of the training  should  be tailored  to  reflect the needs  of  the staff following  a training  needs analysis;and  
2)  Completion of any such training is monitored and properly documented.
 
What an indictment of the incompetent management of data by the Council but as usual, although no doubt 'lessons will be learned'. What will not change is a self-serving culture in parts of the Council that cannot comprehend any obligation from or understanding of the trite and self-evidently untrue slogan on every Council Document: 'Medway Council - Serving You', as demonstrated by a multitude of critical articles on this website detailing Council failures.
 
I would have thought the last thing the Council would want, is my detailed complaint to the ICO about their failings, but as always, who cares. Not apparently Medway Councillors who bear overall responsibility for all this. 
 
 
   
Read 891 times Last modified on Friday, 21 July 2017 09:57

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