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Wednesday, 18 July 2018 15:16

Holcombe Grammar Appeals Still Unresolved

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Update Friday: Holcombe Grammar School has written to the 12 families whose sons were denied places on the waiting list by Medway Council, and invited them to join the list. This is explained in a further article published today (Friday 20th July).    

Over a month on from the Holcombe Grammar school appeals, and two days from the end of the school year, distressed families whose sons were found of selective ability by the Holcombe Appeal Panel are still waiting to learn if they are to be placed on the waiting list. This follows eight months of worry leading up to the appeal process. I have worked with many families in the past waiting and planning for school admission appeals, and know the enormous stress this places on them, as they believe their child's future depends on their performance at appeal. This extra and unnecessary dragging out of the decision, with the mistakes, misinformation  and  confusion that surround it, can only pile the pressure on.  

The mystery of why and how Holcombe Grammar misrepresented Medway Test scores in its case to the Appeal Panel is no clearer in spite of an FOI by me asking these two questions, and an Internal Review into the process whose outcome also fails to answer the questions, itself offering a response that is clearly untrue. Along the line the school has put in writing repeated demonstrable falsehoods, as explained below, most of which it has not even acknowledged. I now have copies of the appeal notes of a number of the appeal cases that confirm the parental version of events, proving the school’s versions in its role as Admission Authority are false. 

I look at two of the central issues below, events up to this point having been explored in two previous articles, most recently here

The Waiting List
As I have established previously, the norm across Kent is for children found selective to be placed on waiting lists of the school they have appealed to, but Admission Authorities do have a right to decide whether or not to carry this through. In this case, the Appeal Panel from Kent assumed the principle applied and told the parents to ask the school for their sons to be placed on the list. The school decided to refer this to Medway Council, although they as Admission Authority had the power to decide, and have since failed to contact the distressed families. In the meantime, as Medway Council appeared to assume authority and claims still to be making up its mind, families have been sent conflicting messages.
The issue is around the 28 London children offered places at Holcombe in March, from as far away as Waltham Forest, many of whom have not even bothered to visit the school, according to internet forums. Some of these will inevitably find more suitable places, creating vacancies which should have been taken up by the successful local appeal boys from the waiting list. Instead, whilst the school chooses disgracefully to delay making a decision until the end of term when they can duck any problems, such vacancies will be taken up by more out of county boys. Never mind that Medway Grammar school qualified boys have reached the end of the school year still not knowing where they are going. However, they are now likely to have been deprived places at grammar school by the machinations of Holcombe Grammar School, which is presumably still chasing the highest qualified boys no matter where they come from.  
Case for the School
The initial failure by the school in its mismanagement of the Appeal process came in its misunderstanding or deliberately misleading description of the Medway Test scoring system. I remain no wiser as to which of these it is, but tend to believe that the school simply does not understand the way the Medway Test works.

The key statement in the School Case to the Appeal Panel is as follows:

This curriculum is designed for the top 25% of the ability range. Students below this level would struggle to engage with the curriculum and its delivery. Therefore, students who have not been deemed selective should not be considered for a place at Holcombe Grammar School. Any score around the 100 mark, (50th percentile) indicates average. A score below 100 suggests that there may be difficulty in that area unless there are mitigating circumstances.The school case is signed off by Mr Gwynn Bassan, Executive Principal, April 2018.

The problem is that this Case uses data applicable to the Kent Test, very different from the Medway Test, and so seriously flawed. The issues are explained in detail here. As a result this sets a bar far higher than the Medway Test as the two are not comparable in any way. Kent data would however be familiar to the Appeal Panel provided by Kent County Council after the previous Panel understandably withdrew and it appears from Appeal notes that at no point was the discrepancy explained.  

As a result, I submitted an FOI request as follows:

'It is unfortunate that Mr Bassam, in the school statement, fails to understand the scoring system of the Medway Test, claiming that a score of 100 is that of the average child, and so a score of under 100 is unacceptable. In fact, it is the score of the average Medway child taking the Medway Test, which is very different. Indeed, a child with a score under 100 in all three tests, can qualify for Holcombe Grammar School under the Medway Test arrangements. Mr Bassam also falsely claims on this basis that ‘Therefore, students who have not been deemed selective should not be considered for a place at Holcombe Grammar School.’ This is the role of the appeal panel and he therefore denies the role of the appeal panel to come to their own opinion on this matter. Can you please confirm that Mr Bassam or his representative will be correcting these mistakes at each appeal, so the Appeal Panel is not misled?'

After an initial hiccup when the school could not even find its own copy of the school case, and asked me to provide it (!) I received the following:

'Mr Bassan understands the scoring of the Medway Test very clearly and did not refer to 100 as being the score of an average child.  The Panel asked him for the highest score from a case in each category and the lowest score so that they could make an informed decision of the ability of the child'.

Of course, this is a false claim as the school case, signed by Mr Bassan, explicitly states that Any score around the 100 mark, (50th percentile) indicates average, also highlighted in his statement above. I can see no way that asking for a highest and lowest score can enable a Panel to make an informed decision on ability of a specific

Not surprisingly, I took my FOI to the next Stage of Internal Review, writing:

‘I do not understand how Mr Bassan can deny what he put explicitly in writing. Further, you make it clear he did not correct this mistake in writing. …I remain unclear from your response whether this is a misunderstanding of the Medway Test scoring system, or a deliberate attempt to mislead the Panel. I cannot see an alternative explanation for this statement, but am happy to receive one. It is unfortunate you have chosen not to respond to my challenge about: “Mr Bassam also falsely claims on this basis that ‘’Therefore, students who have not been deemed selective should not be considered for a place at Holcombe Grammar School’’’.

On 9th July, I received a Response that at last acknowledged ‘that the case from Mr Bassan does clearly state that “Any score around the 100 mark, (50th percentile) indicates average”.  I have clarified with Mr Bassan and he has confirmed that this was an error in the letter’. Actually, it is the central part of the case (not a letter)! No mention of the false claims denying this in between, or any hint of apology to anyone.

The internal Review then claims that Mr Bassan provided the accurate information verbally to the panel at the appeals hearing, as the  Reviewer confirmed by looking at the Minutes of appeal meetings. ‘These minutes support the verbal case Mr Bassan provided the panel and it has been recorded that Mr Bassan outlines in his case the average scores for each paper: 105 for English; 108 for maths and 106 for reasoning. In addition, the panel asked on a number of occasions the highest and lowest scores achieved by students who had been allocated a place.  Therefore, the panel had a very accurate picture of the type of scores students who passed the 11+ achieved’.

I have copies of four sets of Notes (they are not Minutes) of Appeal Meetings. There is no mention in any of these that Mr Bassan supplied the accurate information, or in any way acknowledged that the Case for the School was untrue! Nor is there any reference to the claim about average scores. Nor is it the recollection of these families that such statements were made. I suppose it could be a remarkable coincidence that these sets of parents were singled out not to be told the truth! I can see from the wording chosen in the response that Mr Bassan may have outlined the average scores for each paper on one occasion (although all families are entitled to the same information), but I can see no way that either this or knowing highest and lowest scores benefits the decision making of the appeal panel.

Even the conclusion that ‘the panel had a very accurate picture of the type of scores students who passed the 11+ achieved’, is false. The lowest score of any student ‘who passed the 11+’ was of course the pass mark of 495. According to a separate FOI, there was just one appeal heard from a boy who had been found selective, so there is no way the Panel could form ‘a very accurate picture of the type of scores students who passed the 11+ achieved’ from this one case. There is no record that they asked for other such cases. 

The Internal Review ends with: ‘I have finally reviewed the successful appeals that have been allocated and can also report that 2 successful applicants were supported who had scores below 100 which supports the view that the panel did not reject appeals on the basis you have identified. I therefore conclude that the written statement provided by the school is misleading however that at the appeal meeting the verbal presentation was correct and the panel understood this and therefore I do not support your view that this was deliberate’.

There is no recorded verbal presentation supporting this conclusion in the notes I have examined. I have never claimed the written statement was deliberately misleading; I put it down as one of two alternatives and asked which. I can only therefore conclude this is an admission of failure to understand. There were three successful appeals from boys who had not passed. Two had scores below 100, so one had all scores 100 or more, so he must have passed. Just a minor mistake compared to the others!

This response confirms my initial view that the Case for the School was misleading, arose because the author of it did not understand how the Medway Test operates, as supported by the subsequent and contradictory attempts to explain it away.

The above failures surely invalidate the whole appeal process, whilst the attempts to cover up this shocking situation surely reflect a culture that permeates previous controversial failures by the Trust relating to Holcombe Grammar School, as described here. Still, with the current lack of academy accountability, presumably Holcombe Grammar School and the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, ably supported by Medway Council, will simply march on to the next controversy. 

Read 2438 times Last modified on Friday, 20 July 2018 19:01

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