Supporting Families
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Peter Read

Saturday, 12 August 2017 10:22

Complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman

News headlines have reported that there were more complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) against Kent education and social services last year than any other Authority, a total of 89, perhaps unsurprising as KCC is the largest Local Authority in the country. 

I have been looking at complaints about school admissions, exclusions, transport and Special Needs in Kent and Medway. For KCC and Foundation schools, but excluding academies and Free Schools which are considered elsewhere, there was a total of 35 complaints, most against Independent Appeal Panels and their decisions over school admissions. Injustice was found in just 6 complaints, most for delays in making Special Needs provision, several of which were resolved by a small financial settlement. I am anticipating one further outstanding complaint to be upheld shortly.

In Medway, one out of three complaints was upheld, again for a Special Needs issue, although no injustice was found.


Back in January, the Kent Messenger headlined an article with ‘Maidstone: Headteachers of Invicta Grammar and MGGS rubbish unlawful admissions claims(comments at the foot of the article).

This was in response to my website article: ‘Maidstone Girls and Invicta Grammar Schools: Sixth Form Admissions’ exposing the unlawful practices at both schools . The article attracted an unprecedented 23,717 visitors to date along with enquiries from across the country and local and national media. With GCSE and AS results time coming up shortly, this second article is written to help advise families who find themselves in similar situations.

invicta        MGGS

With regard to the Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, the Local Government Ombudsman will be publishing a decision in September, which is currently embargoed, but I am able to offer advice below to families placed in a similar situation.

The Headteacher of Invicta Grammar School  made the ridiculous claim that all 22 girls who left Year 12 from the school last summer did so of their own accord, having failed to achieve the school’s high expectations at AS Levels. This has been powerfully refuted by over twenty testimonies from girls who were forced out in this and previous years, mostly published as comments to be found at the foot of my previous article. Although this practice is not uncommon in other schools, although rarely on this scale, no one has challenged my claim that such permanent exclusions are illegal, including the Department of Education. I explore the rules that confirm this, below. 

So, hardly rubbish in either case; instead very serious issues for the students concerned, for whom neither school appears to have had any pastoral care or responsibility.

I find the criticism of a Labour Member of Parliament living in the selective county of Kent, for sending her children to grammar school when she disagrees with academic selection, quite bizarre especially as no alternatives are offered by her critics (the link is just one of many online articles). 

What follows is not, I believe, a political view but one that is purely pragmatic. In Canterbury, where this issue has arisen, 30% of the state school population go to grammar schools at the age of 11, well over the county standard of 25%. So, even the technically comprehensive church schools will have a limited number of children assessed to be of grammar school ability at that age, even assuming that a school whose philosophy is underpinned by faith is an option. 

Whatever parents’ view on the principle of selective education, they still have a parental responsibility to do their best for their children within the system that operates locally. It would surely be perverse not to send an able child, assessed to be of grammar school ability, to the school best suited for their abilities. Certainly, when I was a grammar school headteacher I had children in my care whose parents disagreed strongly with the selective system, including Labour politicians. This did not present a problem for them or for me, as we all agreed that given this was the system, even though they would have it abolished, mine was the most appropriate school for those children.

It is clear after two general elections in which the only discussion about grammar schools from any party was about the possibility of expanding numbers, that there is no general appetite for a break-up of the selective system where it exists, especially with the greatest divide in education receiving no mention whatever. For it has always been a mystery to me why the Left in politics never refers to the biggest fault line, that between state and private schools, with the country’s private sector demonstrably undermining social mobility without being challenged.  Many academically selective private schools, benefitting from historic and private funding sources along with impressive tax breaks and ‘old boy’ networks, offer future life prospects for those able to afford them, that areas without grammar schools cannot hope to emulate.

The Canterbury Labour M.P. is not the only local parent to be publicly pilloried for expressing opinions on this matter, oddly perhaps in a university City that should create a climate of encouraging tolerance and rational debate. However, she should surely not be criticised, nor her children brought into the public domain, for choosing the most appropriate state education option for her children.  Also, strangely, I doubt given the experience of a number of other Labour MPs that she would have been equally vilified for sending her children to the alternative local option, one of Canterbury’s three private schools! 

Irrelevant Fact: This is the 1000th item of news and information posted on this website. 

You will find the original article on which this item is based, here

In 2009-10, Kent schools permanently excluded 126 pupils, rising to 210 two years later, but falling every year since then, to a low of 58 in 2015-16. Over the same period Medway school exclusions rose from just three pupils excluded to an appalling and record figure of 81 in 2015-16, up 35% on 2014-15. This is the highest exclusion rate in the South East of England, with the secondary school exclusion rate being over twice as large as any other Local Authority. Nationally, Medway is joint 7th worst in the country for permanent exclusions. Further, the average number of days of fixed term exclusion per Medway pupil was 7.3 days, the highest figure in the country. 

In both Local Authorities, the number of families ‘choosing’ Elective Home Education is astonishingly high, with Medway seeing an incredible rise in families taking their children out of school, soaring from 38 to 377 in two years. For some reason, Medway Council is desperately trying to hide the identities of the schools where the worst problems exist.

This article explores the reasons for the stark contrast in outcomes in the two Local Authorities. Government policy is to reduce the number of children excluded from schools, with permanent exclusion (expulsion) used only as a last resort.

This newspaper article is based on a more comprehensive one, elsewhere in this website. 

2017 has seen a remarkable fall in the number of children applying for places in Kent primary schools, a drop of 679 or 3.8% of the total. As a result, there are 11.1% vacant places in Reception classes across the county, rising sharply from a figure of 6.5% in 2016.  

There are still local pressures focused on several towns including: Tonbridge with just one vacancy in one school; Ashford, two vacancies, apart from 14 in a school on the outskirts; Sevenoaks, full apart from 18 places in one school on the outskirts of town; and Tunbridge Wells just one school with 24 vacancies. However, overall there is a far better picture than last year. Contrast these pressure points with: Ashford Rural; Faversham; Maidstone Rural; Shepway Rural & Hythe; and Swanley & District; all with a fifth or more places empty across their schools.

The most popular schools vary considerably year on year, with just Great Chart, Ashford and Fleetdown in Dartford in the top ten both years. Most oversubscribed school is Slade Primary in Tonbridge, turning away 43 first choices, followed by Great Chart, Ashford, with 41. Then come: Cobham, Gravesham with 35; Cecil Road, Gravesham, East Borough Primary, Maidstone, and St Mildred's Infants, all with 34 disappointed first choices; St John's CofE, Maidstone, 32; St Mary's CofE Primary Academy, Folkestone, 30 (a remarkable turn round from 2016 when the school had six vacancies); and Fleetdown and West Hill Primaries, Dartford, along with Langton Green Primary, Tunbridge Wells, all with 29.

At the other end of the scale, 18 schools have more than half their places empty, a sharp rise on last year.  Seven Kent primary schools have had at least two years being half empty or more.

KCC offered places to 404 children in schools they had not applied to as all their choices were full; known as Local Authority Allocated (LAA) children.

This article is based on four more comprehensive ones, elsewhere in this website: Kent Grammar Schools; Kent Non-Selective Schools; Medway Grammar Schools; Medway Non-Selective schools. 

The allocation of secondary school places took place at the beginning of March and this article surveys some of the consequences of the decisions taken.

The two biggest pressure areas appear to be in Thanet non-selective schools and North West Kent grammar schools, but there are plenty of others.  

The problems in Thanet are caused both by an influx of pupils and a massive polarisation of popularity with every one of the six non-selective schools full on allocation. Many parents try to avoid two schools, Royal Harbour and Hartsdown Academies and as a consequence these two were allocated 166 children who had no school of their choice, more than a quarter of the total in the county. These will include a large number of Children In Care, dispatched by London Boroughs; others are children from the EC and refugees, all bringing their own challenges to the schools. As a direct consequence, three schools are massively oversubscribed, with St George’s CofE, King Ethelbert and Charles Dickens (last Inspection – Special Measures proving no obstacle!) turning away 186, 126 and 53 first choices respectively. The first two are the first and third most popular non-selective schools in Kent, split by Valley Park in Maidstone, which turned away 179 first choices.

At the other end of the county, the pressure on North West grammar schools is intense, brought about through London families looking to secure grammar school places. The six schools have offered 280 out of county (ooc) places between them, including some from north of the Thames, with a further 62 at four Medway grammars. Dartford Grammar School, has placed a limit of 90 places for local boys, selecting those with the highest scores. It has offered places to 79 ooc boys, with many grammar qualified children being denied places at their local school. Dartford Grammar school has gone down the same route, allocating 100 places to local girls, alongside 55 oocs. 

Update: See article in Kent on Sunday. Full version here

 Government statistics for Permanent and Fixed Term Exclusions, published today, show that Medway schools are for the third consecutive year amongst the worst in the country for excluding children. Taken in conjunction with the very large number of children leaving Medway schools for Elective Home Education, it is no surprise that Medway Council is unlawfully trying to hide the relevant data as explained below and in a previous article entitled: Medway Council: Incompetent Again.

For 2015-16, 81 children were permanently excluded from Medway schools, 78 of them from secondary schools. This is the highest exclusion rate in the South East of England, with the secondary school exclusion rate being over twice as large as any other Local Authority. Nationally, Medway is joint 7th worst in the country for permanent exclusions, and up 35% on 2014-15. Compare this with Kent, six times as large as Medway, with permanent exclusions down to 58, including 49 for secondary schools, see below.

There were 3,295 fixed term exclusions in Medway schools, again the highest rate in the South East, and 9th highest in the country, up 12% on 2014-15. Further, the average number of days of fixed term exclusion per Medway pupil was 7.3 days, the highest figure in the country. 

Accompanying all this are the 377 Medway pupils who ‘opted’ for Elective Home Education, many of whom will have left school against the threat of exclusion, and again a very high figure in proportion to other Authorities, and whilst a massive increase on 2014-15's figure of 239 pupils, an astonishing and frightening tenfold increase on 2013-14's 38.  

In total, this represents a frighteningly high number of Medway children being abandoned by the system, and which will inevitably lead many to troubled lives, and long term cost to society. It clear from my analysis below that Medway Council has no idea what to do about the problem, if indeed it wants to do anything. 

I have been looking at Kent schools that have abnormally large numbers of pupils dropping out before completing their statutory education, and trying to work out some of the reasons. Three schools leap to the fore because of their exceptional disciplinary requirements, which are clearly unpopular with families, but I also look at several other schools of note below.

Each of these three Kent schools have featured in the media in the last year because of controversial and tough disciplinary policies, often on minor uniform issues, designed to raise standards of behaviour and which they claim will make them popular with families.  They also all have large parts of their hinterland which are areas of social deprivation.

However, they share two other common characteristics which raise serious questions about this approach. Families try to avoid all three when choosing secondary schools; and all three have a large number of children being removed from the school to take up Elective Home Education. I look at the relevant data below, along with a look at the approach of each school individually.

There has been plenty of activity on the Academy and Free School scene over the five months since my previous article on this theme. There are eleven new academies in Kent, and seven in Medway, as detailed below. There are also another ten new applications for conversion and approvals for eleven new Free Schools in Kent and Medway.

Three struggling secondary schools have been taken over to become sponsored academies.

You will find further details on all these developments below, together with the only up to date comprehensive list of academies, Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) and Free Schools including applications for conversion in Kent and Medway which is available on this site through the links below. Much of my data comes from the DofE website and a number of other sources, including the OFSTED website for the latest conversions.

This article also looks at matters relating to Folkestone Academy, Holcombe Grammar , Meopham School, Rainham Mark Grammar, The Sevenoaks Grammar School Annexe, and Spires Academy, together with a closer look at possibly the country's smallest MAT, in Medway. 

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.

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