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  • I am writing to thank you for all you did for Jack. You may not remember him, but you organised and won his appeal this time last year. We are very grateful for all you have done. I just hought I would let you know how Jack got on in his 1st year. He really enjoys the school. Its ethos of hard work, varied subjects and lots of sport really suits him".
Monday, 06 May 2013 07:32

School Admission Appeal Panels: Can you complain about the outcome?

We are now well into the secondary school admission appeals timetable, with upwards of 1200 appeals being heard for Year Seven places in Kent selective and non-selective schools  between April and June. Overall it is likely that some 40% of these will be successful, although the proportions can vary widely from school to school, and for individual schools from year to year.  In my experience whatever the result, the overwhelming majority of parents find that the appeal process has been conducted in a professional and fair manner, with parents put at their ease as far as possible to enable them to put across their points confidently. However, in a small minority of cases, there are problems with the appeal process, and parents will seek to complain in the hope of winning a fresh appeal in front of a new panel. You cannot complain successfully simply because you don't like like the result. Instead you have to show not only maladministration by the Appeal Panel or the Admission Authority, but also possible injustice as a result of that maladministration. In other words, just because the process is carried out incorrectly you cannot win a fresh appeal, it also needs to be shown that the maladministration could have led to a different result.  

Worryingly, Some 20% of all complaints nationally about school admission appeals are about Kent schools and the Independent Appeal Panels that run the appeals, with an even higher proportion of the complaints being upheld........

 

The statistics reproduced below give rise to concerns about the quality of the process in Kent, a problem now magnified by concerns about the impartiality of the procedure for complaining about  academy appeal panels. Even so, with less than one in fifty of Kent secondary admission appeals leading to complaints being upheld against them, it is clear that the process is generally in good shape. 

Government has recently published for the first time the procedure for complaining about the administration of the appeal process by independent appeal panels for admission to Academies. Such complaints are investigated by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), a department of government. Complaints about appeals for Local Authority funded schools are heard by the Local Government Ombudsman. The academy procedure certainly clarifies what has been a grey area for parents (although it was available on request last year), but it highlights what I consider major flaws in the process.

 These are:

  1. Complaints are investigated by the Education Funding Agency itself, which is responsible for oversight, control, promotion and funding of Academies. In some cases the same officers responsible for liaison with academies also carry out investigation of complaints.
  2. The parent submits a complaint, without guidance as to how they should formulate this. The complaint is then shown to the clerk to the appeal panel, and sometimes the academy, who are asked to respond. The officer dealing with the case then comes to a conclusion on the case without sharing that response, so the complainant has no way of knowing if the response is truthful or fair, and is unable to challenge any assertions put forward. This is surely unfair and against natural justice.
  3. The officers allocated to the task of reaching decisions are also involved in other roles and so will not develop the high level of expertise held by Local Government  Ombudsman (LGO) officers who are entirely focused on dealing with complaints, including those about appeal panels of local authority funded schools.
  4. In some cases, the same appeal panel members, clerks and administrators provide an appeal service to both academies and local authority funded schools. This means that the same procedure, although for different schools, can be (and has been) adjudged maladministration by one body and reasonable by the other.

It is a great pity that government has cut the LGO out of this procedure, for it had the option of using them and avoiding any suggestion of unfairness. The LGO website contains advice about making a complaint and the organisation runs a useful helpine,which offers considerable helpful assistance. The LGO’s independence, impartiality and fairness are unquestioned and the service has many years of experience and expertise built up which may now go to waste as the proportion of academies increases.

The acid test for any complaint about admission appeals remains: was there maladministration which may have caused injustice?

Both services are free if you complain directly, but each year I support parents with complaints to the LGO and the EFA who prefer me to prepare and follow through the complaint on their behalf. I have therefore seen the difference in process at first hand, although  these differences are highlighted by the comparable complaint outcomes below, which show that complaints to the LGO are about twice as likely to succeed as complaints to the EFA. .

In the EFA Tables below, the Headings A, B, C are:

A: No maladministration;

B: Maladministration without injustice – no fresh appeal;

C: Maladministration with possible injustice from the decision – fresh appeal ordered. 

Complaints about Admission Appeals
to EFA 2013

Complaints

Outstanding

Decision
A B C
%
upheld
National 99 13 60 13 13 13
Kent 20 1 15 1 3 15
Medway 1 0 1 0 0 0

Outstanding complaints refer to those not settled at the time I requested the information. I supported the complainants in the Kent case where there was maladministration without injustice – so no fresh appeal was ordered (although naturally I disagreed with the decision!). Two of the three Kent cases where there was maladministration with injustice were at Leigh Technology Academy, which uses a firm of solicitors to manage their appeals and provide appeal panels.


Complaints about Admission Appeals
to EFA 2012

Complaints

Outstanding

Decision
A B C
%
upheld
National 104 16 78 3 7 7
Kent 18 0 13 1 4 22
Medway 0 0 0 0 0 -


Here, I supported three of the four cases where fresh appeals were ordered, all with KCC Panels, at Dane Court Grammar School; Maidstone Grammar School for Girls; and Oakwood Park Grammar School (new Panel organisation now running appeals) .

I also have the 2011-12 figures for LGO complaints that are recorded on a different basis. I have simplified the outcomes (2013 figures still to come).  In the case of the LGO, they do not have powers to award a fresh appeal, only to recommend action. This is usually a fresh appeal, but occasionally includes awarding a place directly, or some other outcome satisfactory to both parties.

 

Complaints about Admission Appeals
to LGO 2011- 2012
Complaints No Investigation Investigated
No significant
injustice
Injustice
remedied
%
upheld
National 511 110 277 124 24
Kent 97 31 36 30 31
Medway 6 0 4 2 33

Here, the column 'No investigation' records outcomes where the LGO did not consider an investigation was likely to identify injustice from the evidence of the initial parental complaint. Of the successful Kent complaints, 12 were about Panels set up by Kent County Council for primary schools; most of the rest also being about KCC Panels: 7 at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Girls (new Panel organisation now running appeals); 4 at Dartford Grammar School for Girls; Barton Court Grammar School; Gravesend Grammar School (new Panel organisation now running appeals); Gravesend Grammar School for Girls; Homewood School; & Wilmington Grammar School for Girls. I was involved with eight of these cases.

In Medway, one of the two successful complaints was about Chatham Grammar School for Girls (new Panel organisation now running appeals), the other at a Medway primary school.  

 Successful complaints about other Appeal Panels were also made at: St Edmund’s School, Dover; The Skinners’ School (mine).

It is a matter of serious concern that some 20% of all complaints nationally to both EFA and LGO are about Kent schools; an even higher proportion being upheld. Not surprisingly, schools and academies are increasingly choosing to go with one of the small number of independent organisations who run appeals in Kent, and which generally produce a lower level of complaint.

 I am pleased to say that none of my clients have seen a complaint to the EFA or Ombudsman rejected on grounds of failure to show maladministration for four years, and since I began supporting parents with their complaints I have secured 37 fresh appeals or direct offers of places.  

Last modified on Monday, 06 May 2013 22:29

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