by David Jones
Call me cynical if you like – and lots of people do – but the one thing you can always be sure of in Medway is that apathy will rule OK when it comes to consultation on an important local issue.
Take, for example, the fiasco over the Medway Test – Medway’s version of the 11-plus – last year.
For the past seven years, pupils have taken the exam in test centres, rather than their own primary school.
This system has never been popular with parents because the children have to go to a designated test centre – a local secondary school – to sit the exam in unfamiliar surroundings.
After errors and delays during last September’s tests, Medway Council promised to consider allowing pupils to sit the exam in their own school once again.
The blunders in September led to a record number of complaints on our website about a single issue. More than 500 parents demanded action.
The council embarked on a consultation exercise to seek parents’ views and guess how many responded? Just 47. Despite this lamentably poor response, the council’s cabinet will be asked later this month to start the ball rolling for some pupils to sit the exam in their own school this September, with a full return in 2013.
No doubt there are many thousands of parents out there who believe this is the correct decision but, as is usual in Medway when residents are asked for their opinion, hardly anybody bothered.
The same apathy afflicted a public meeting in Medway last month over social care charges. Six people – yes, six – attended a meeting called by the council.
People can hardly complain if the council does what it likes in view of such a pathetic turn-out. Likewise, parents would have had only themselves to blame if the council had decided that public interest in the 11-plus issue was so limited that the status quo would be retained.
It may be that some parents felt they were wasting their time taking part in a consultation exercise. Sadly, the council does have something of a track record of consulting and then doing what it intended anyway.
In the case of the Medway Test, the council and notably education boss Cllr Les Wicks, received such a kicking in the local media that they dare not have ignored the protests.
Having gone through a consultation exercise, they might have argued they could justify keeping the test centre system because of the poor response.
And, if they had, I expect that considerably more than 47 parents would have complained. Too late, of course. But that’s how apathy works – or, rather, doesn’t.