Fatherhood: School Placement Appeal Hearings – an Intro

July 1, 2015 at 1:05 pm

This morning my wife and I attended an appeal hearing at the local council building, to appeal the placement of our son Freddie at the school he has been placed in. Or more accurately, to appeal the decision to NOT send him to the school his older brother currently attends.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of our particular case – partly because the appeal is still in flux, and I don’t want to jeopardise things by mouthing-off about it on the internet. But also because it’s not really important – the fact is, the council made him an offer at X school (4th on our list), whilst rejecting our application for Y school.

The school he has been placed at is a very nice school, I hasten to add – but logistics are going to make it very difficult for us over the next few years, dropping two children at different schools before my wife then drives across town to get to HER school.

So, naturally, we appealed the decision. For those of you who haven’t gone through this before, what basically happens is that you register to appeal, you put your reasons in writing and are then invited to attend an appeal ‘hearing’ to discuss the case.

The trouble is, while we were researching the process, I made a number of enquiries online to find out what exactly the hearing is like – I knew what it roughly involved, but I was interested to hear about it from other people who had been through it. Having dug up almost nothing, I thought I might as well give a rough idea of our own experience, in the hope that some other parents may find it in the future and that it might be useful for them. So here goes!

Setup

I don’t know if this is necessarily the case for every council in the UK, but I suspect there are a lot of similarities. Our hearing was held in a big room at the back of the Civic Centre, and took place around one of those funny 0-shaped tables. Apparently they often over-run (though we actually got in early) so make sure you give yourself a good amount of time, so you’re not rushing in order to get back to work.

The Panel

There were 5 attendees at our hearing. One representative from the council (who I assume is there on behalf of the school), three independent (i.e. not affiliated with any school in the area) panellists and a Clerk. The clerk’s job is basically to take notes and follow-up with you about the decision, so don’t worry too much about him/her. The people you will be presenting your case to are the independents – and the person whose job it is to argue with you is the council rep.

Informality

One of the things the panel told us when we first entered the room is that they try to keep it ‘informal’ – whilst it’s like a court case in a number of ways, there’s no judge there telling you to shut up if you speak out of turn, though I got the feeling they would have stepped-in if we’d got TOO heated. You don’t need to worry about wearing a suit (in my opinion), they’re not judging you or your family. You just have to present a reasoned and calm response.

Be prepared

Despite the informality, you will want to prepare for the hearing. Whilst some people I know have sought legal advice, I think that might be a little overboard. But one thing you can do is contact the council to ask for the contact details of their ‘Admissions Advisor’, who can offer you tips or help. But as a minimum, read the documentation they send you very carefully, and plan out what you’re going to say. We took notes and they helped a lot – even if only to keep us on track.

Do some research

If (like us) you’ve already got a child at the school in question, or know somebody who has, ask around for information which might be pertinent to your case. Look on their websites, review the council’s own documentation – finding a hole or a mistake in their judgement can often be the best chance of winning. We found a couple of points on the school’s website which appeared to contradict the council party-line, for instance – though only time will tell if they helped!

Don’t get personal

Unless you believe the council have broken the law (or their own admissions code, to be specific) – which is highly unlikely – your best bet is to argue why the decision they have made is unworkable, unreasonable or unjust. Try to stick to facts – how it might affect you or your child, the logistics, the facts stared in the rejection, that sort of thing. There’s no point just going in and saying “This is SO unfair” like a petulant child – or worse, verbally attacking the panellists. They’ve got a tough job to do (even if you don’t agree with their decisions) so stay polite and friendly.

Timings

Don’t expect an answer then and there – they usually take a week to give you their decision, and the panel won’t even discuss it amongst themselves while you’re there – they hear your piece, they hear the council’s piece and they ask questions. Then you leave, they discuss it and they get back to you at a later date. So prepare to be patient!

That’s all I can think of that might be of help – though if anything else occurs to me, I’ll update this post in future. If you’re in two minds as to whether to appeal in the first place, or whether to attend the hearing (it’s optional), I’d urge you to do it if at all possible. After all, you’re never going to win if you don’t take part.

We personally don’t think we’ve got a very high chance of winning, but reasoned that we didn’t want to sit down in a year’s time and regret our decision, or find out that everybody else who appealed had won. So give it a go if you can!

If you’ve been to a hearing yourself and it differed significantly from what I’ve described, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.