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Displaying items by tag: FOI

MEDWAY Council is breaching transparency laws, the Messenger can reveal, with hundreds of queries for information taking more than a month.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was hailed as opening up local government to public scrutiny when it launched in 2005. Anyone is entitled to get information for free within 20 working days.

 But 48% of FOI replies by Medway Council last year broke that time barrier. The transparency watchdog, the Information Commissioner, is now examining the situation after contact from the Messenger. Information Commissioner spokesman Greg Jones said: “We monitor the worst performing authorities on time limits. The trigger is if they respond to fewer than 85% of FOI requests on time.” Medway’s rate is 52%. Schools expert Peter Read has battled to reveal important stories using FOI. He said the council often escaped scrutiny because facts were “old news” by the time they emerged.

 “I’ve only made one Information Commissioner complaint because frankly you lose the will to live,” he added. “I got the final result two weeks ago after 18 months. I’m appalled, but it’s totally what I expect.” Even the Messenger’s first request for today’s figures took 104 working days, despite the response being a standard two page rejection letter. That challenges the council’s claim that its longest reply has taken 49 working days. Councillor Tristan Osborne (Labour) has protested to council leader Rodney Chambers (Conservative). Mr Osborne wrote: “It is right in a democracy that power be scrutinised, irrespective of who controls the executive.”

 The ruling Conservative group says short-staffed bosses will “raise awareness” of the importance of FOI in a bid to boost responses.

A spokesman said: “This surge in demand, and the complexity of some enquiries, can and does make it difficult to always meet the 20-day deadline. “Research shows each FOI request costs on average £293, which currently equates to more than £200,000 a year for Medway. “Decreases in government funding make it difficult to find the resources to meet the growing FOI demand we are seeing.”

 FOI law has helped the Messenger expose jawdropping stories at Medway Council and beyond. We resorted to FOI after the council failed to detail a mysterious £350,000 cost of closing two schools. It transpired that the money had gone to a private firm simply to cancel a photocopier hire contract.

Published in Newspaper Articles
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On 11th April, I wrote an exasperated Blog article dealing with the failures of Medway COuncil to respond to Freedom of Information Requests. What I didn't know at the time was that four weeks earlier the Medway Messenger had published its own article bemoaning the same failures by the Council. I have managed to obtain a copy of that article, written by Dan Bloom, and reproduce it below: 

"COUNCIL chiefs have taken five months to reply to a formal information request – which asked how many requests were being answered late......

Published in Newspaper Articles
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Thursday, 11 April 2013 13:19

What can I do about Medway Council? - Continued

Warning – this is a very long and somwhat rambling article about Freedom of Information Requests in Medway, but it makes me feel better if nothing else! Back in December 2011, I wrote a blog article on this very topic, complaining about Medway Council’s repeated failure to respond to FOIs with a follow up in February. . Since then the Information Commissioner has ruled that Medway Council is in breach of Section 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act in failing to comply with a request of mine within the statutory time for compliance. However, this appears to have made no impact on their current poor practices. .......

Published in Peter's Blog
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  • Kent and Medway School Transport in September

    Most recently updated 12th August - and probably more to come in a fast-changing situation. 

    Government Policy
    'It is our plan that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term'.

    Government Advice
    'We expect that public transport capacity will continue to be constrained in the autumn term. Its use by pupils, particularly in peak times, should be kept to an absolute minimum'. 
    ' I am asking every staff member and student to plan now how they will get to school or college. If it is possible to walk or cycle, please do' (Secretary of State for Education)

    I wholeheartedly support the government policy principle of encouraging all pupils to return to school in September, and those schools are working incredibly hard to deliver it. However, one of the many intractable Covid-19 related challenges facing some secondary schools and families when re-opening in September is that of pupil transport. Many Kent schools are especially vulnerable, for the county is rural in places with pupils having to travel long distances to their nearest school, and faith and grammar schools will also have pupils who travel considerable distance by public transport. Most readers will have seen or encountered the publicly accessible double-decker buses packed with pupils on their way to and from school in the past, but this won’t be the situation in September. For social distancing rules reduce the number of passengers on each bus by up to two thirds and there is not the spare capacity at peak school times to increase bus numbers to compensate.

    We are now just three weeks away from the start of term and there is no sign of a solution to the transport difficulties, although the government has recently released two documents covering the challenges. KCC considers that: ‘the financial impact on bus services and operators has been significant so it could be that more services than usual are subject to change or cancellation. In addition, at the moment, operators are only able to let about half of the usual numbers of passengers on their buses and if this remains the case, then providing enough space for all passengers could (!) be a problem, and so students that can travel in a different way should do so at the moment’. This will inevitably have major knock-on effects, with a sharp increase in private traffic on the roads at key times.

    There is no doubt that unless there are considerable improvements to what is currently on offer, too many pupils will regularly miss large parts of the school day, with some not being able to make school at all. 

    Written on Friday, 07 August 2020 19:47 3 comments Read more...
  • Comprehensive Future Knowingly Re-Publishes False Data about Grammar Schools and Pupil Premium

    Two years ago, Comprehensive Future published as a fact that: When asked how many pupils were admitted through these priority policies 80 schools responded, revealing that just 574 disadvantaged pupils were offered admission out of their 12,431 available places... there were 22 selective schools who responded to say they had failed to admit a single disadvantaged pupil through their policies’.  This claim was picked up by the media including the BBC. Unfortunately, this is twice completely false, as I demonstrated in an article last month after the organisation publicly attacked me for querying the data, repeating it in the process. False firstly, because the organisation had quoted completely the wrong data column from their own database, and secondly because the whole database is self-evidently rubbish, see below. As I wrote then, a prime example of the ICT mantra Garbage in, garbage out.  

    I have now been informed by CF’s Chairman, Nuala Burgess, that CF is not prepared to discuss the matter further, the bogus claims remain on their website and that of the BBC and so this must cast doubt on any other claims made by CF on data they have harvested to forward their aims.

    Written on Thursday, 06 August 2020 15:25 4 comments Read more...
  • The Kent Test 2020: Throwing down the gauntlet

    I had an extended interview on Radio Kent last week about the unfairness created towards ‘children of ordinary families’ in the Kent Test for this extraordinary year. At the conclusion, Julia George who was interviewing asked me to ‘throw down the gauntlet’ with KCC over my deep concerns, repeated several times over recent months. I did this by simply challenging the Council to respond to the recently published Government Guidance to Admission Authorities, Kent County Council being one of the largest in the country. KCC’s response to the BBC over the challenge wrongly dismisses the guidance because it ‘will cover individual schools and consortia which test far fewer children’. More importantly, it completely ignores the main part of the guidance and my concern, which focused on the unfairness created for lower-income families in Kent, as explained below.

    At about the same time, Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education at KCC replied to a letter from Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, which echoed my concerns. This response covers somewhat different territory, but again completely ignores any strategy for promoting fairness for disadvantaged families as laid down by the government advice. Moreover, he dismissed my idea for creating flexibility in these increasingly uncertain times and of supporting ordinary families, or any alternative, having set up a false description of it to dismantle!

    Written on Wednesday, 05 August 2020 10:35 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • The Struggling Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey Appoints its Fourth Leader in Seven Years.

    Oasis Academy Trust is trying once again to reverse the inexorable decline in the fortunes of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIOS) by bringing in a new Executive Principal over the head of Tina Lee, the current Principal.

    Oasis Sheppey

    Ian Simpson, currently Principal of Oasis Academy Lister Park in Bradford, makes the eighth leader since the school became an academy in 2009. Most of his predecessors have been moved on after failing to turn the school round. Both of the previous two post holders were appointed from within the school only after the Trust failed to attract anyone from outside, despite extensive advertising. Both have been a disappointment. It is not clear if the role of Executive Head is permanent or just a short term firefighting job.

    All this is taking place in the context of a forecast crisis in the provision of non-selective places in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, which will come to a head in 2021, if it has not already arrived. 

    Written on Friday, 31 July 2020 06:45 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Government 'Expectation' on Managing Selection Test Arrangements in Kent and Medway

    Hot on the heels of Kent County Council's confirmed arrangements for the Kent Test, as reported in my previous article, the government has now released its formal advice on assessment processes for selective school admissions. This is quoted extensively below in blue and italics. It greatly expands the frameworks set out by KCC and Medway Councils, urging admission authorities to look closely at minimising disadvantage for protected groups, socially and economically disadvantaged children and children who are unable to attend the test centre, as I had hoped KCC itself would. The current KCC proposal heavily discriminates against lower-income families who can't afford private education or extensive private tutoring.  It remains my conviction that, if KCC were to adopt a model such as the one I have proposed before, it would go a considerable way towards meeting the requirement to minimise this acknowledged disadvantage in the current circumstances which has not yet been addressed. However, there is still the flexibility to do so. Medway Council has a more structured procedure for assessing children, but no apparent will to change it as this document advises, so I have little hope that greater fairness will emerge there.  

    Several pieces of government advice, considered further below, relate to the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers which is likely to be magnified by their absence from school during the coronavirus outbreak’. In particular, ‘we therefore strongly advise that tests for grammar and partially selective schools are moved back into late October or to November if local admission co-ordination processes allow’. Along with the other recommendations below which now need addressing, this is considerably more radical than the KCC and Medway decisions which place the revised test dates in the first half of October and offer no further mitigation of disadvantage. 

    The immense logistical problems faced by KCC and, to a lesser extent by Medway Council, in providing facilities to test some 5,000 out of county candidates are also explored further below.

    Written on Saturday, 25 July 2020 11:59 3 comments Read more...
  • Education, Health and Care Plans in Kent

    Update: You will find an article exploring the government's announcement of 35 new Free Specia Schools to be set up here

    Further Update: KCC and government have announced the opening of a new secondary special school on the Isle of Sheppey for September 2022. 

    This article looks back at provision for children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) for the year 2018-19 across Kent, success rates for those appealing against decisions, along with other related matters. The data shows a sharp rise of 80% in EHCPs awarded in under three years, with a corresponding increase in budget putting enormous pressure on KCC education finances.

    The data below shows that for nearly half of families requesting a statutory assessment of SEN this is not followed through for some reason, often lack of support from the school which may be for good reason. However, for most who get that far, the overwhelming majority were awarded an EHCP, so it is worthwhile persevering. I imagine that the difficulties of securing an EHCP over the past six months have been immense.  Those unsuccessful in securing an EHCP or one that is adequate for the purpose have the right to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, although large numbers starting down this route did not follow through, often where KCC decided their cases were not worth defending and concede the EHCP, as suggested by the data.

    The article also looks at placements of children with EHCPs, with 40% of primary and 30% of secondary pupils remaining in mainstream schools, along with the number of children being with EHCPs being de-registered from school for Elective Home Education, together with a brief look at the powerful performance of Medway Special SchoolsI also look back at a damning Inspection of Kent’s ineffectiveness in implementing the disability and special educational needs reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 which took place in the middle of this period; consider the current situation and the financial pressures imposed by the increase in EHCPs; and the number of families taking up places in private schools, funded by KCC often after Tribunal. These include one which charges more than twice as much as Eton College. 

    Written on Friday, 24 July 2020 15:54 1 comment Read more...