School admissions appeals panel hearings: a step-by-step guide
The current situation with coronavirus and social distancing has led to some changes in the appeals pathway.
Parents will still need to submit their appeal request as usual, following the school's or local authority's normal process, which you'll find on their website.
The big difference is that due to the pandemic, hearings may not be held face-to-face at the moment.
Instead, the hearing could be held by phone, video conferencing or by letter, with each party submitting a written report. The appeals clerk has to contact all parties to check they have what they need to participate in their hearing, e.g. access to video conferencing facilities.
Other changes mean that the appeal panel may consist of two instead of three members, if the third withdraws (e.g. due to illness).
You'll also have at least 28 days' written notice of a new appeals deadline, and 14 days' notice of your appeal hearing. This gives more flexibility for appeals teams to adapt to the new way of working.
Once social distancing rules are relaxed, appeals may revert to taking place in person, but the possibility to conduct them remotely will remain until 30 September 2022.
1. Receive notice of your appeals panel hearing date
Once the admission authority has received your appeal form or letter, it will notify you of the date when your appeal will be heard. The appeal panel hearing should take place within 30 days of your appeal being lodged. The authority must send you written notice of the date of your appeal hearing at least 10 school days before it is held. If you are unable to attend, and it is not practical to offer you another date, the appeal will be decided on the written information you have sent in.
At least seven working days before the hearing, the clerk will send you all the appeal papers. At least three working days before the hearing, the admission authority must inform you who the panel members and clerk are, give you all the information you have reasonably requested, and provide details of any witnesses who will give evidence to support your case.
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2. Gather supporting documents to help your case prior to the hearing
It’s helpful to bring any documentation that supports the statements you made in your appeals form, so put this together well in advance. It’s also helpful to write down what you’d like to say to the panel so you can make sure your thoughts are formed clearly and reasonably.
Make sure you know as much about the school as possible, particularly whether or not it is full or could comfortably accommodate another child.
3. Attend the hearing
Arrive on time and smartly-dressed, with all of your supporting documentation and any written statements you have prepared (you can read these out in front of the panel). You may have a representative speak for you, such as a lawyer.
The appeal panel is made up of three to five people, which must include someone who has not worked in a school, and someone who has education experience and knowledge of the educational conditions in the area. None of them should be connected to the school, but all will have received training in conducting appeals.
The questions they will consider are:
- Whether the admissions criteria has been drawn up correctly.
- If this criteria has been applied fairly.
- Whether the school has shown objectively that it is oversubscribed and that a further admission would be prejudicial.
- Whether the parents can show that there is some overwhelming consideration for their child to attend the school while in contest with other parents who are appealing.
Appeals last for about 30 minutes, and generally follow this process:
- The representative of the admission authority will read out a statement to explain why your child has not been offered a place at the school.
- The panel will ask if you have any questions for the admission authority representative.
- The panel will invite you to give a statement explaining your reasons for wanting your child to attend the school.
- The panel may ask you questions about your statement.
- The panel will ask you if you have anything else to add.
- The admission authority will give a summarising statement.
- You will be invited to give a summarising statement.
4. Receive the panel’s decision
Within five working days after the panel hearing, you will receive a letter explaining whether or not your appeal has been successful.
If your appeal was not successful, then the usual next step is to simply put your child’s name on the waiting list and look at other schools. But, you can appeal the panel’s decision if you feel there was a serious flaw in the appeals process that goes against the law. Reasons for this could be that a member of the panel was a governor at the school where you applying for a place, or that the admission authority broke the law with its admissions criteria.
In this case, there are three things you can do:
- Make a complaint to the local government ombudsman, who can overrule appeal panels and order another appeal hearing by a different panel. The ombudsman will only investigate your case if they feel that the process has been wrongly carried out. An ombudsman’s investigation can take a long time.
- Make a complaint to the Secretary of State for Education to exercise his or her default powers. But, this is rarely successful so is not generally recommended.
- Ask for a judicial review, which is a challenge to the decision in court. It is expensive, and you may not be entitled to legal aid, but it’s probably the quickest way to achieve a result.
Thank you to School Appeals Services LLP for expert advice and information.