I can honestly say that the weeks leading up to the appeals were the most stressful of my life. You’d have to know me to be aware that I wouldn’t say that lightly. It was awful knowing that the fate of my children lay in the hands of strangers – what if they were having an ‘off’ day or what if they’d had a row with their partner that morning, or had a headache, or just didn’t like the look of me?!
I took lots of advice; from people on twitter, from friends, from teachers, from the admissions team etc. All the advice suggested that we didn’t have much of a chance. Several people said ‘be careful not to turn the panel against you’, I found that phrase practically haunted me – in the most emotive and important meeting of my life I wasn’t meant to be emotional, or angry or too questioning.
I think the worst thing of all was that we didn’t have a Plan B. The schools we wanted were right by the house – the other schools were miles and miles away and it wasn’t logistically possible to get both children to both schools at the same time when they were 15 miles apart! My previous post explains the problem more specifically. Frustratingly, as we had not exchanged contracts on our new house the appeal was classed as an ‘out of catchment’ appeal – with our address showing as over 60 miles away from the school!
We’d been told that we stood a reasonable chance on the year 6 place and that we had no chance on the year 7 case as the last few appellants had lost their appeals.
How A Hearing Works
There are two distinct parts to an appeal. First – the local authority representative speaks and explains why the school is full and why it would prejudice the school to have to admit another pupil.
This part is not about my child, it is about the school. Their job is to prove they are full.
There is then a recess during which the panel decide whether or not they find that the effective running of the school would be prejudiced by admitting another pupil.
If they do not find prejudice then the appeal is won. If they do find prejudice then it moves to the second stage of the appeal where the parent has to put their case and explain how it would prejudice the child if they were not able to attend that school.
The panel then decide who would be most prejudiced if the child went to the school and the outcome is issued by post within 5 days.
1st appeal was for a year 6 junior school place – the LA put their case and explained that the school had smaller than average classrooms and an unusual architectural design which he felt adversely affected the running of the school. We then asked questions based upon what they’d said. My aim here was to ask questions which demonstrated it would be possible for another child to be in one of the classes without causing any problems for pupils or staff.
During the questions we found that in year 1 there were 3 classes each containing 22 children, but in year 2 there were only 2 classes each of which had 32 children in them, I suggested that as the school had chosen to do that in year 2 it must work and therefore there was no reason why they couldn’t have classes of 31 in year 6. We also found that there were 3 rooms in the school which were not currently being used as class rooms which again suggested that there was extra capacity.
We went out for the recess and when we returned the panel told us that they were not able to find that there would be any prejudice for the school to admit another child – appeal 1 was WON!
2nd appeal was for a year 7 senior school place – much trickier as there are 34 children on the waiting list! Again the LA put their case – the school had been built for a smaller population, they had been promised development monies that they would not now be getting, they had dismantled portable classrooms on the promise of a new building which never came, the school could not fit in the main hall at all the same time, they had insufficient designated science labs….
All quite doom and gloom. One thing they didn’t say (but that was in their written report which I had studied at length!) was that they were having to re-open some previously closed rooms because of growing pupil numbers. So I asked for clarification of this and asked how many rooms there were that could be re-opened. The LA did not have the information with them. I asked why they had dismantled the portable classes BEFORE the new building had been finished as surely if they didn’t have sufficient room in the school then they would have had to have waited until the new building was finished – the LA said we could guess at several answers, but he did not know the actual answer. I asked how many children were in each of the year 7 classes – the highest class number was 30 and the smallest was 27 – I said that would suggest that there was room in the class with 27 pupils. The chairman of the panel then pointed out that on his information there was a class in year 8 with 32 pupils.
We again went out for recess and when we returned we were told that the panel were not able to find that there would be any prejudice for the school to admit another child – appeal 2 was WON!
The chairman added at the end that ‘sometimes the system works‘.
So we won both appeals without actually having to say anything about the children and why they should go to those schools which I’m still trying to get my head around. We were expecting a long drawn out process with lots of difficult questions, having to reign in tempers and tears and then waiting 5 long days to hear.
To anyone considering a school appeal I would say make sure you read the LAs case thoroughly so that you are able to identify any weak points in may have. Proving the school isn’t full is by far the simplest way to win an appeal.
To say I was pleased by the outcome is a bit of an understatement. With tears in my eyes I told the chairman of the panel that I loved him, I then hugged him and enthusiastically thanked everyone in the room!