The Chairman of the panel will ask the school to explain their case. There shouldn’t be any big surprises there, if you’ve read the Statement of Case. There will be talk of admissions criteria, Published Admission Numbers, and no doubt the ‘efficient use of resources’.
Once that’s done, it’s for the Panel – and you, if you feel able – to question the Presenting Officer (and Witness if there is one) and try to pick holes in their case.
It’s best to wait for the Chairman to invite you to ask any questions you may have, rather than just jump in – even if a Panel member has just received an answer, an interruption might spoil his or her train of thought, which could have helped your case! But if you do get carried away, don’t worry, the Chairman will make sure you don’t damage your case or make a fool of yourself.
If the Appeal is for Reception, year 1 or year 2, the Chairman will move straight on after this stage. If it’s for an older child than that, you and the school’s representatives will be asked to leave the room while the Panel makes its Stage One decision.
In some Appeals, the school just can’t make a convincing case that letting in one more child would cause any significant ‘prejudice’ to the smooth running of the school or the ‘efficient use of resources’. For instance, they might need to fit in an extra desk and chair – but the classroom might be big enough for this not to be a catastrophe, in the opinion of the Panel.
Where this happens, the Panel decides right now to uphold your Appeal. The Clerk comes out to tell you the good news (and break the bad news to the school) and you can go home knowing you’ve won. Hurray!
(The Panel, with the Clerk’s help, then spends some time writing down exactly what their reasons were for this decision … so that the school can’t challenge it with a Judicial Review. Panels work hard, you know!)
More often though, the school makes a good enough fist of arguing that, say, it already has had to absorb extra children because of previous Appeals, and that significant ‘prejudice’ would be caused by admitting even one more pupil. It’s not usually a slam-dunk I’m afraid.
Where that happens, the Panel needs to find out in more detail what your child’s specific difficulties are, so they can balance those against the school’s difficulties.
Your chance to describe your child as a real, living person. You can talk about the bullying, and the effect it’s had on your child and his or her education. You can explain why this school would solve these problems and give your child the safe, fresh start that he or she needs.
You can read out the Statement you concocted at home last night, or just refer to bullet points or the forms you filled in and talk off-the-cuff. No extra points are awarded for presentation style, for tears or lack of tears, for not stammering or getting flustered, or anything like that. The Panel is trained to see past all those subjective things to the real case … and any questions they ask you are designed to tease out the depth of your argument.
The Presenting Officer has an opportunity to ask you questions too – but don’t assume they are all designed to expose your weaknesses. I have often known a good Presenting Officer seek to clarify something a parent has said, which actually strengthened their case. As I said earlier, they’re just doing a job.
The Chairman should end by asking you if you’ve said everything you came to say. This is your chance to look back at your notes and take a moment to make sure that some key point hasn’t got missed out in the heat of the moment. Usually there isn’t, but I strongly advise you to take your time and really check. If you’re not on your own, check with whoever is with you that nothing’s been forgotten.
And then it’s all over
The actual decision is made after everyone but the Panel and Clerk have left the room. Sometimes it has to wait till after other Appeals have been heard on the same day. If there are a lot of hearings scheduled, the decisions might even be made at a later date. So it’s not worth waiting behind, hoping the Clerk will tell you verbally before you go home.
You must by law be sent, within five school days, written notice of whether your Appeal has been successful or not.
If it has, the school will contact you about arrangements for admission, or you may contact the school directly, on receipt of the decision letter; if not, you will be told what else you can try – such as trying to get into yet another school. Or you can ask about home schooling, if you feel that is the best option now.