If your child is unsuccessful in the Medway tests you are entitled to apply for a Review of the decision, designed to select another 2% of children. This process identified a further 56 Medway children (exactly 2%) out of a total of 68 successful Reviews for 2011 entry. Current legislation is in a mess, and if you apply for a Review and are unsuccessful, the rules say you can only have your case heard by an Independent Appeal Panel if you can show the Review process was not fair, objective or consistent. You will find the legal background at Code of Practice for School Appeals, paras 3.36 and 3.37. I do not know how parents can weigh up which option to choose! However, I attempt to summarise the situation below.
The Review procedure for 2011 entry was as follows. Review Panels, each comprising two teachers from different schools, looked at three pieces of each of English, mathematics and science submitted by the primary schools (usually but not always within books), together with standardised test results taken in the schools and a grammar/non selective recommendation from the primary school (there is no indication on the Panel decision sheet of how this information is used). The Panel is not given any other information although parents were asked to complete a form (which is ignored) giving their reasons for asking for a Review. Each Panel then made a decision based on the work of the children they were reviewing and the total of successful reviews for Medway children turned out to be exactly 2%. The remaining five were Kent children.
For 2009 and 2010 admissions, parents, including clients of mine, persuaded Appeal Panels at Chatham Grammar Boys, Chatham Grammar Girls and Sir Joseph Williamson's that the Medway Reviews were unfair â€“ I believe my arguments were decisive (one after a complaint by me to the Ombudsman), and so parents did have their academic cases considered. Each year Medway Council has responded by amending the Review process in the light of the previous yearâ€™s findings to try and convince Panels it is fair. Presumably this will happen again.
The problems are compounded by the Review application Form R1 that invites parents to give their reasons for requesting a Review. It is also made clear that parents should not send in additional information or documentation. However, the form also states that decisions will be based on the evidence supplied by the school, implying (confirming) that these parental reasons will be ignored. Further the primary school headteacher is again forbidden to write letters of support or to provide information, other than KS1 results, Year 5 levels and a high/grammar recommendation. In 2008, following a complaint by me, the ombudsman criticised this process as the combination of the two procedures denies parents any opportunity to put forward their case, which flies in the face of natural justice. However in a 2010 complaint the Ombudsman found this contradiction was reasonable!
I have received many enquiries on the value of the words on the R1 Review Request form. All I can get from Medway Council is that:
Those carrying out the Review process should see the parental statement (and no more), just to place the academic evidence in context. The review panel will (then) make their decision based on a consideration of the academic evidence provided by the school.
This moves us no further forward as if parents have reasons for underperformance, no Review Panel should/could accept these without evidence that would be supplied by additional materials. In any case, the Panel decision is based (solely?) on academic evidence supplied by the school. I am very disappointed that Medway Council is unable to give proper guidance to parents on the value of their statement on Form R1, preferring to leave them in confusion. My own view is that although Panels are not be able to take the statements into consideration, but parents should put reasons for underperformance down as it is often relevant for appeals (see below). Please feel free to use my telephone consultation service to discuss this.
At an Independent Appeal, parents have the right to present whatever information they wish, to try and persuade the Panel that their child is of a grammar school standard. This is likely to include reasons why the child underperformed and alternative evidence of his or her grammar school ability. However, the statutory Code of Practice states that where a Review has taken place, the only grounds for appeal are that the Review was not fair, objective or consistent. In other words, according to the rules, panels cannot consider alternative evidence that the child is of a grammar school standard, or that there were reasons for underperformance on the day, unless they are satisfied that the Review process was unfair.
The real problem often comes at appeal, as Appeal Panels for the different schools adopt different interpretations fo the Code.
Summary of Issues and Strategies for Review Process
56 Medway children were successful at Grammar School Review in 2010 out of 249. There were just 27 children who were successful at appeal following an unsuccessful Review out of 62at Chatham Boys, Chatham Girls and Rainham Mark, see Statistics. The number of children, initially non selective, who were offered places at The Math, Fort Pitt, Rochester Grammar or Rainham Mark would have been negligible.
Appeal Panels at Chatham Boys, Chatham Girls and The Maths School all found the Review process was faulty, often on grounds of good reasons for underperformance in the Medway Tests as recorded on R1! The Panels at Rochester Grammar, Rainham Mark and Fort Pitt all found it to be fair. A decision on fairness at The Rochester Grammar in 2008 was reversed by the Ombudsman following a complaint by me, another in 2010 was upheld on very similar evidence!
This suggests you should go for Review if you are considering a place at the first three schools. As for the second category, chances of a successful appeal anyway are very slim (but not impossible!), and so I am unable to advise you which decision to take.
If you go for Review and are unsuccessful, an assessment of your childâ€™s work is sent to the appeal panel. I believe that because markers want to create clear water between those who are found selective and those who are not, Review reports are often unduly harsh and have a negative effect on Panels.
The Admissions brochure, like the parental advice, is ambiguous on the issue of whether parental reasons are taken into account, in spite of being criticised by the Ombudsman who considers parents should have the right to have their reasons presented to the Review Panel Review.
Medway Council works hard to try and make the Review process fair, objective and consistent, following each previous year's experience, to meet the Code and ensure that Appeals cannot consider parental reasons. I believe, that the process is inherently flawed and can be successfully challenged - sometimes I have won but I lost one this year!
If you donâ€™t have powerful reasons for your childâ€™s underperformance in the Medway Tests I therefore recommend that you go to Review. If you are unsuccessful, then attempt at appeal to show the Review process is unfair (naturally I am happy to help in this process!) so that the demonstration your child is of grammar school ability (that you would need to show) can be considered by the Appeal Panel.
If you do have powerful reasons for underperformance, then your decision making is much more difficult. In previous years, cases I was involved in included: massive disruption during testing ignored by invigilators (shouldnâ€™t have affected quality of work submitted so probably go for Review), previous illness and hospitalisation (would have affected quality of work, so decision difficult), disruption in continuity of teaching affecting quality of learning (again affecting quality of work), demonstrable bullying affecting progress (quality of work), family tragedy (several cases, one following long term illness affecting childâ€™s progress at school, another sudden not affecting work, but did produce poor performance).
I am sorry I canâ€™t give clearer recommendations. Until Medway Council resolves the issues parents are being placed in an impossible position in terms of making rational decisions as required by the various Codes of Practice and by natural justice.