The success of the scheme in this unique year will depend even more on the volunteer panellists who will still be needed to make it work, and so arrangements to suit them, as well as parents, are critical. It remains possible, if there are insufficient volunteers, that some appeals will not take place until September if at all.
Further details are promised soon, so it is good to see that most cases are likely to be heard this school year. Currently, appeals have to be heard by June 15th but government is looking to extend this deadline.
If you receive information about an appeal you have made to a Kent or Medway school, please let me know so that I can see what is happening and update this article. Whilst I no longer comment on individual cases, I may also be able to advise you on the process.
I have written a previous article on this theme, setting out a wider perspective than that now indicated by the government statement.The statement reads:
Given the current Covid-19 restrictions we do not consider it sensible to go ahead with admission appeal panels. We are working urgently on emergency regulations and guidance to establish alternative arrangements which are suitable but also flexible. We are looking to put in place enough flexibility for admissions authorities to hold panels via telephone or video conference or in writing. We are also reviewing whether we can extend the current timescales associated with admission appeals. We do want to continue to ensure that appeal panels are heard fairly so we will not be changing the requirements on clerking.
The key difficulty in all cases is the fact of schools being closed . This may mean that many families will not be able to get headteacher letters of support, or other evidence, which form critical factors in all grammar school and many other cases. Their absence would seriously damage the conduct of any appeal, making it impossible to come to a fair decision.
The first two sentences of this paragraph set out a fundamental rule of fairness which would rule out a written hearing. However, the caveat of sentence three opens the door wide to the current legitimacy of an appeal hearing being conducted in a single room or more probably remotely, the clerk ever present, with the appeal panel and possibly the Admission Authority’s Presenting Officer. However, a remote hearing (see below) would require a wide emergency change in regulations. One further tweak would be to allow the Panel to contact the appellants to chase up any missing evidence, or else to send out an enquiry to them in advance of the hearing, either setting out guidelines as to the evidence looked for by the panel (particularly important in the case of grammar school appeals), or else requesting specific information.
For grammar school appeals, the key is evidence of grammar school ability, although it is increasingly difficult to get hold of this with school closures. I can’t see most appeals beginning before mid-May this year, so parents may be able to persuade the school to produce something more by then even though they are closed. If possible, a pattern of Test and other assessment performance at the school should also be provided (evidence from private tutors will tend to work against you) to support the case. If there are specific reasons for underperformance then evidence of these should also be provided.
My advice page on appealing for non-selective schools describes no clear strategy as panels at individual schools are looking for different things, often guided by the school case, so look closely at this when it arrives. Parents should remember that the letter and any follow ups are all the panel will probably see of the case, so make sure the pointers I have quoted in my article are picked up at a minimum.
In this scenario, Panels could collect together and be seated according to social distancing but many potential panellists may not wish to travel. It is therefore more likely that this operation will be carried out remotely, using an appropriate App such as the popular Microsoft Teams and Zoom. There is no indication at present about whether the number of panellists can be reduced to two, which could ease matters.
This all makes the work of the clerk even more important, as a record of proceedings will need to be kept, so that they are open to scrutiny. The correctness of proceedings can then be challenged through the complaints procedure, although this would be moving into totally new territory.
Clearly video conferencing is the nearest possible arrangement to the current procedure, but there are considerable challenges to be sorted out for it to work. There would need to be a video screen capable of showing up to six participants, as the three panellists also need to be kept apart and, as well as the appellants and panel there would be a presenting officer and clerk. However, even if the logistics could be sorted, many appellants would be uncomfortable with the technology and the complexity of proceedings.
Then there is the problem of where, physically, appellants are to be situated. Some, but not all, could take part at home via Skype or Facetime. Others would need to get to a place where they could access the system, but there may well be travel regulations in place prohibiting this. This all presumes that the technology to deliver this is available in every case, probably via one of the new Apps that have sprung up to meet precisely such an arrangement. However, even then, whilst I can see how this would work for Panels hearing a small number of appeals, the logistics of managing such a system with a school like Chatham & Clarendon Grammar and its 130 appeals last year are mind boggling.
Telephone conferencing is similar in many ways, but is obviously far less satisfactory. Many appellants who are not used to such an experience will inevitably feel bombarded by three unseen inquisitors and in a position of isolation and inferiority. In neither of these modes are panellists trained in the different skills required to treat appellants appropriately, and indeed I can think of no one currently with the skills or experience necessary to do so at short notice.
It is therefore my considered view that neither of these options is realistic in most cases.
I don’t think any of the solutions is fair to all, but we live in a different world from that of two months ago. I therefore consider that the written hearing will be the best way possible in the circumstances.