Letter sent to independent schools about Kent Test preparation

Joanne Bartley made this Freedom of Information request to Kent County Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

Joanne Bartley

Dear Kent County Council,

I understand that a letter was sent to independent sector schools recently about preparation of their pupils for the Kent Test. Please could you provide a copy of this letter, and a list of the schools it was sent to.

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Joanne Bartley

Kent County Council

Dear Ms Bartley

 

Thank you for your email below.

 

Kent County Council acknowledges your request for information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000. Assuming KCC holds this information, we
will endeavour to supply the data to you as soon as possible but no later
than 6^th June 2017 (20 working days from date of receipt).

 

We will advise you as soon as possible if we do not hold this information
or if there are exemptions to be considered and/or any costs for providing
the information. Please quote our reference - FOI/17/0806 - in any
communication regarding this particular request.

 

Best regards

 

Carly Wattle | Information Access Officer | Information Resilience &
Transparency Team | Kent County Council | Room 2.71, Sessions House,
Maidstone, ME14 1XQ | Phone 03000 417061 | Fax 03000 420303 | 
[1]http://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council...
|

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Kent County Council

Dear Ms Bartley  

 

Quality checks have revealed that we quoted an incorrect latest complete
by date in our acknowledgement below.

 

The latest date that you can expect a response by is actually 5th June
2017.

 

Please accept my sincere apologies for any inconvenience or confusion that
this error may have caused you.

 

Kind regards

 

Caroline Dodge | Team Leader | Information Resilience & Transparency Team
| Kent County Council | Room 2.71, Sessions House, Maidstone, ME14
1XQ | Phone 03000 416033 | Fax 03000 420303 | 
[1]http://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council...
|

 

 

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Kent County Council

Dear Ms Bartley

 

Further to our acknowledgement below, under section 10(3) of the Freedom
of Information Act 2000, public authorities can extend the statutory
timeframe to consider whether the public interest in withholding exempt
information is outweighed by the benefits of releasing it.  We are in the
process of exploring this.

 

We hope to be in a position to reply to you as soon as possible but no
later than 15th June.  Please quote our reference - FOI/17/0806 - in any
communication regarding this particular request.

 

Best regards

 

Michelle Hunt | Information Governance Specialist | Information Resilience
& Transparency Team | Kent County Council | Room 2.71, Sessions House,
Maidstone, ME14 1XQ | Phone: 03000 416286 |
[1]http://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council...

 

 

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Dear Kent County Council,

The response to my request is long overdue. by law, under all circumstances, you should have responded by now.

If you feel there is a public interest benefit in withholding a letter about private school's preparation of pupils for the Kent Test, then please explain what your reasons are. I feel that parents in Kent would like to know if there is any likely difference in the test preparation in a state school and an independant school, and in your instructions to each type of school. This letter will help to clarify your position.

Yours faithfully,

Joanne Bartley

Dear Kent County Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Kent County Council's handling of my FOI request 'Letter sent to independent schools about Kent Test preparation'.

The response to your request is long overdue, and you have not explained why the information has not been provided.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

Yours faithfully,

Joanne Bartley

Kent County Council

Dear Ms Bartley

 

On the 5^th May 2017 you wrote to the Kent County Council (“the Council”)
requesting a copy of the letter sent to independent sector schools
recently about preparation of their pupils for the Kent Test, and a list
of all the schools to which it was sent. 

 

The Council acknowledged your request for information under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 on the same date and stated that it would endeavour
to supply the data to you as soon as possible but no later than 6^th June
2017.

 

On 1^st June 2017, the Council requested an extension of time until 15^th
June under section 10(3) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to
consider whether the public interest in withholding exempt information is
outweighed by the benefits of releasing it.

 

On 4^th July 2017 you requested an internal review into why there has been
a delay in the provision of a response. You also sought clarification on
whether there is any difference in the test preparation in a state school
and an independent school, and in the instructions sent by KCC to each
type of school.

 

The Council unreservedly apologises for not responding by 15^th June 2017.
The departments involved in the preparation of this response have
regrettably been extremely busy and your request was overlooked.

 

I shall respond to each of your requests individually.

 

A copy of the letter sent to independent sector schools recently about
preparation of their pupils for the Kent Test, and a list of all the
schools to which it was sent. 

 

Application of Section 36(2) Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Exemption
for prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs

 

The Council seeks to rely upon the section 36 exemption to not disclose
the contents of the letters or to whom they were sent.

Section 36 provides an exemption if disclosure would or would be likely to
inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or exchange of views, or
otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

 

From time to time the Council is contacted by people who allege that a
primary school linked to the Kent 11+ assessment (“the Kent Test”) process
is not abiding by the Council’s “no coaching” rule. In most cases there is
insufficient evidence to demonstrate malpractice, as many teaching,
support and extension activities undertaken by schools inside and outside
the private sector in the lead up to secondary transfer do not constitute
a clear breach.

 

This year, in response to allegations from different sources, the Council
decided to write individually to three schools in the private sector, to
ensure that the schools were fully aware of the policy set out in the
“Instructions” document sent to all participating schools, and that they
knew that past papers should not be retained or photocopied. These I
believe are the letters to which you refer.

 

The relevant part of the document, quoted in all the letters, is as
follows:

 

“The Authority reserves the right to vary the normal procedure in respect
of any particular pupil or group of pupils. In particular, if it receives
evidence that test materials have been retained or misused by a school, it
will set aside pupils’ PESE test scores, and all candidates will be
referred to the local Head Teacher panel to be assessed instead by
scrutiny of work and records from that school.

 

As the tests are designed for selection purposes, some pupils in Year 6
will certainly find them difficult. Coaching is not required or permitted.
If we receive evidence that a school is coaching we reserve the right to
“unlink” it from PESE, and no longer to send test materials to the
premises.”

 

In addition, recipients were reminded of the copyright restrictions on
testing materials, and the fact that they are supplied for single use and
must be returned to the Local Authority when testing is over.

 

When considering requests for information we would normally consider
whether a document could be disclosed in a redacted format.  My view is
that the disclosure of the letters within the remit of the request with
redactions (taking into account all of the above exemption) would not give
any more context to the information further to what is stated above.

 

In the cases of other schools the Council judged that the most appropriate
action would be to highlight the information when the next edition of the
“Instructions” document was sent out in a general mailing, as nothing
alleged would have constituted a clear breach. This action would also have
the merit of reminding all participating schools of the terms on which
they are linked to the process and allowed to administer tests on their
own premises.

 

I accept that there is a public interest in transparency in the conduct of
public affairs, so that the public can have confidence in the process and
is able to examine decisions taken on its behalf and scrutinise the
processes which led to those decisions being taken.  I further accept that
there is a public interest in knowing the issues which surround the
selective school admissions process in Kent; how this is monitored and
made a fair process for all children concerned. However, weighing up all
the facts I do not believe that the obligation to disclose outweighs that
of the prejudice against the schools should the information be released to
the public domain.

 

It is imperative that KCC is able to maintain the delicate balance of its
relationships with Kent residents, its own schools and its linked
independent schools in delivering and monitoring a County-wide Kent Test.

 

The Council is grateful for the assistance of independent schools in
administering the Kent Test to Kent residents not in state school
settings, and the co-operation of its own primary schools in providing a
reciprocal invigilation arrangement.

 

Members of the public and Head teachers from both sectors must have a
degree of confidence that any issues about testing can be raised and
discussed in a “safe space”.

 

To disclose the information may have a prejudicial effect for the
following reasons:

 

 1. It may impact upon the individual independent schools if it leads to a
concern that the school may no longer be able to test children on the
premises.

 

 2. A previous investigation into a school allegedly coaching pupils
caused parents to indicate their intention to remove younger pupils
from the school. This would have had significant budgetary
consequences for the school.

 

 3. Publication is likely to raise curiosity about the complaints and the
Council may not be able to protect the identity of the complainants.

 

 4. The degree of public interest in selective school admissions and in
coaching and subsequent privilege is currently high, and while the
Council appreciates the need for transparency it must be allowed to
concentrate on delivering the process, which involves over 14,000
children and a restricted time frame. To disrupt this process may lead
to children being unable to progress to the school of their choice and
this may affect their future education/ career paths.

 

As Section 36 is a qualified exemption, the public interest test should be
carried out.  Mr Watts conducted the public interest test after giving his
qualified person’s opinion. Whilst he recognised that there are strong
elements in favour of disclosure he also considered the impact on the
administration of the Kent test, those that the Council relies on to run
and invigilate the test and most importantly the young people who have
taken the test or might take the test in future. On balance Mr Watts took
the view that this marginally outweighs the arguments in favour of
disclosure noting that the response must include those parts of the
requested correspondence that is capable of being disclosed.

 

I have also carried out a public interest test and whether the public
interest in maintaining the Section 36(2)(c) exemption outweighs the
public interest in disclosing the information. In doing so, I have
considered the opinion of the qualified person and the following
arguments:

 

Arguments in favour of disclosure

 

o Transparency, openness and accountability in how the local authority
and a public body conduct their affairs.

 

o Disclosure would inform the public of the names of those individual
independent schools who are said to have contravened the policies in
regards to coaching pupils for the Kent Test. This could restore
confidence in the public that any schools found to be at fault may
have sanctions posed against them for such conduct.

 

o If the information currently in the public domain is incorrect or
misleading, disclosing details of the policies and processes followed
would inform the public’s understanding.

 

Arguments for maintaining the exemption

 

o Disclosing the letters addressed to the individual independent schools
would affect the conduct of public affairs by both the local authority
and schools. It would suggest that the Council, rather than maintain
the delicate relationship with the independent schools would be
prepared to “name and shame.” This may lead to the independent schools
unlinking from the scheme. Where a school is unlinked from the scheme,
its pupils are tested under different conditions and later than other
Kent residents.    

 

o Upon receipt of a complaint of alleging coaching an investigation is
carried out by the Council. If the complaint is upheld there are
sanctions that can be put in place.

 

o To disclose the names of the independent schools may lead to a
detrimental effect upon the school by parents seeking to withdraw
their children from the school with the fear that their child may not
be able to sit the Kent test at that school in the future if they are
unlinked from the scheme. This would have a significant economic
impact upon the school.

 

o The relevant paragraphs of the letters that are pertinent to the
information requested in regards to “Coaching” have been included
within this response.

 

I carefully considered the arguments for disclosing the information and
for maintaining the exemption. I have balanced the competing interests and
whilst I recognise there is considerable interest in the disclosure of the
letters, I am not satisfied that it is in the public interest to disclose
the names of the schools or information that could allude to the
individual schools. The letters were sent to the schools with no
expectation that such information would be disclosed.

 

It is my view that the Council’s responsibility to the individual
independent schools and their pupils outweighs the arguments for
disclosing such information.

 

Clarification on whether there is any difference in the test preparation
in a state school and an independent school, and in the instructions sent
by KCC to each type of school

 

The Council cannot speak for what teaching goes on in individual schools
where children are preparing to take the Kent Test.

 

As you are aware from the response to your FOI/16/1406 provided on 30^th
September 2016, the Council sends exactly the same instructions to all 
their linked schools (linked schools = state and private schools in the
county which regularly have a substantial number of candidates and so
administer the process for us by agreement) regarding coaching.

 

The latest version of these instructions was circulated to the linked
schools at the end of May 2017. For the purposes of concord the most
recent version wording is provided below:

 

"3. Coaching

As the tests are designed for selection purposes, some pupils in Year 6
will certainly find them difficult. Coaching is not required or permitted.
Test scores are standardised against the performance of an external sample
of pupils who have not been coached, so that children who have not
undertaken any special preparation are not placed at a disadvantage. If we
receive evidence that a school is coaching we reserve the right to
“unlink” it from PESE, and no longer to send test materials to the
premises.

 

Granada Learning Assessment (GL-A) provides and holds the copyright to the
test materials, which means that copying them in any way, in whole or
part, without express permission from GL-A is illegal, even if you have a
general licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency. As they are sold to
us on a single-use basis, they must not be retained after testing. Because
the questions come from a secure database, tests must not be shown to
anyone other than those directly involved in administering and taking
them.

 

The Authority reserves the right to vary the normal procedure in respect
of any particular pupil or group of pupils. In particular, if it receives
evidence that test materials have been retained or misused by a school, it
will set aside pupils’ PESE test scores, and all candidates will be
referred to the local Head Teacher panel to be assessed instead by
scrutiny of work and records from that school."

 

If you are unhappy with this response, and believe KCC has not complied
with legislation, please ask for a review by following our complaints
process; details can be found at this link
[1]http://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council...
on our website. Please quote reference FOI/17/0806.

 

If you still remain dissatisfied following an internal review, you can
appeal to the Information Commissioner, who oversees compliance with the
Freedom of Information Act 2000. Details of what you need to do, should
you wish to pursue this course of action, are available from the
Information Commissioner’s website [2]http://www.ico.org.uk/concerns.

 

Best regards

 

Michelle Hunt | Information Governance Specialist | Information Resilience
& Transparency Team | Kent County Council | Room 2.71, Sessions House,
Maidstone, ME14 1XQ | Phone: 03000 416286 |
[3]http://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council...

 

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Dear Kent County Council,

Thank you for your detailed reply. However I am not sure the letter you are referring to, which was sent to 3 independent schools, is the letter I am referring to.

Is the letter or email you describe the one that was referred to on the BBC South East broadcast around April 27th? This broadcast suggested that a letter was sent to all independant schools. I would appreciate your clarification. It may help if you provide the date this letter was sent to 3 schools?

I would also like to see the 3 letters sent in full, but with the identity of the schools or other sensitive notes redacted. The reason for my request is that it is in the public interest to know if these 3 schools did actually cheat by keeping and using papers. It seems likely that they did, but because you providing such vague detail we can only surmise this happened. This may encourage rumour, while the actual information will mean the facts of the matter are in the public realm.

It is in the public interest to know if private schools do sometimes actually keep Kent Test papers and use them to train their pupils, and to know what action you take when this happens. The public, parents and teachers will be more vigilant in reporting these things, and know that it is not allowed, if it is reported that this does actually occur sometimes.

You appear to have hinted that cheating occurred rather than providing factual information about what these 3 schools were accused of doing.

Yours faithfully,

Joanne Bartley

Dear Kent County Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Kent County Council's handling of my FOI request 'Letter sent to independent schools about Kent Test preparation'.

The reply to my FOI stated, 'When considering requests for information we would normally consider
whether a document could be disclosed in a redacted format. My view is
that the disclosure of the letters within the remit of the request with
redactions (taking into account all of the above exemption) would not give
any more context to the information further to what is stated above.'

I would disagree with this point, and I feel that a letter with sensitive details redacted it may well give context such as what happened at each school. I do not think a proper answer has been given as to why you can not send me the 3 letters with the names of the schools redacted.

So I would like to make a formal request to see the 3 letters with school names redacted please.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

Yours faithfully,

Joanne Bartley

Kent County Council

4 Attachments

Dear Ms Bartley,

 

Please find attached a letter from KCC for your attention.

 

Yours Sincerely,

 

Denise Burring

Solicitor | Office of the General Counsel | Strategic and Corporate
Services | Governance and Law | Room 1.97 Sessions House Maidstone Kent
County Council ME14 1XQ | [1]www.kent.gov.uk

 

 

 

CLA03 / 05885004

References

Visible links
1. http://www.kent.gov.uk/