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Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:44

Coronavirus: School Appeals in Kent & Medway Part 4

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I have now written a further article looking at fresh developments: Coronavirus and School Appeals: Five 

The government has now published temporary regulations for the operation of school admission appeals during the Coronavirus emergency. Not to put too fine a point on it, my personal view is that as set out these are unworkable in Kent and Medway, whose schools held over 10% of all secondary school admission appeals in the country in 2019. The new regulations appear to have been drawn up without regard for the people who matter at this difficult time. Instead, when there was opportunity to be flexible by varying aspects of the non-statutory School Admissions Appeals Code in order to be fair to families, the regulations attempt to force the new circumstances into the existing Code.   

There are three groups of people to consider. Most importantly are the thousands of families, some of whom have spent up to eight months worrying about their children’s futures and all hoping they would get a fair hearing at an appeal which will affect their children’s life chances. Secondly, there are the army of volunteer appeal panellists  who freely give of their time to bring this about, but given no consideration here. Finally, do not forget the shrinking number of administrators whose workload and responsibilities are expanded enormously by the new regulations, but also given no consideration;whose  job is made all the more difficult because schools are closed at this time and access to documentation can be impossible.  

I look in more detail below at the implications for these new Emergency Regulations, mainly as applicable to Kent and Medway.

You will find direct quotations from the new regulations in blue below. Recent updates are in red

This is my fourth article on Coronavirus, Number Three being here, as the format of appeal hearings have clarified with fresh releases of information and regulations. I have also written a recent article on Coronavirus: Kent Test, Grammar School Admission and Appeals 2020 which includes amongst other matters, a look at different aspects of, and fresh problems with, appeals at grammar schools. 

I recognise I am not a lawyer; this being just the view of a practitioner (although with over fifteen years experience of appeals as panellist, trainer and adviser to families)To be clear, this is my personal interpretation, and may well be regarded as controversial in places. No doubt we shall soon hear the legal interpretations of the new rules, but this article is mainly written from a human perspective.. I have conducted an online survey of many Local Authorities and have only found two so far which have taken a position (27/4), Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire County Councils. See update below.  

In Kent and Medway alone, over 3,000 secondary school appeals were heard last year, more than twice as many as any other Local Authority, and over four times as many as the large majority. Initial reports suggest that the number of appeals locally will be significantly higher for 2020. Seven local schools had over 80 appeals each in 2019, with two hearing 130 appeals, many panellists volunteering to hear appeals for a number of schools.  Now the schools are closed, the ranks of administrators depleted through the pandemic and its consequences, and no doubt many volunteer panellists pondering on whether to get involved due to the current uncertainties. In this case a decision to greatly expand the workload for each appeal, as spelled out in the new Regulations, appears foolish in the extreme and shows  a lack of awareness of the job in hand.

In particular the regulations bear down hard on appeals to be decided on the basis of written submissions only, their recommendations detailing an enormous extra administrative burden, surely impossible to deliver without the caveat noted below.    

 Overwhelmingly, the regulations appear to have been written by Civil Servants who regularly use Video Conferencing and clearly assume that the rest of the nation is equally comfortable with it. They make the assumption that appellants and panellists are more conversant with video conferencing than many Members of Parliament and media correspondents at Minister’s briefings, and that they will be using technology that is more effective than either of these. One of my correspondents wrote, ‘everyone is familiar with video conferencing through pub quizzes, etc’. It doesn’t take a moment to see that an appeal hearing in this mode is far more complex than these, with critical live exchanges between different members of the conference between at least six people, several of whom may never have encountered the concept before. Current practices see at least a dozen half hour appeal hearings per day on a tight schedule per school, so any hitch in the technology is going to throw this out of kilter, and be reliant on the clerk to solve problems of timing and rearrangement. The television programme 'Have I got News for You', currently conducted remotely, is a good example of how the content of a half hour programme  becomes greatly reduced in this mode. Therefore, in the case of video conferencing, the Appeal Panel and clerk will need to make a  choice of: holding fewer hearings each day to a very flexible timetable; curtailing discussion in each hearing; or rearranging appointments as the day goes on. All this in a very tight schedule for appeal organisers including KCC, which will inevitably have that reduced pool of volunteer panellists.   

I am conscious that the issues are most acute in the 38 Kent and Medway selective schools, which held 72% of the local 2019 appeals. These can become quite technical through examination of the evidence to justify  grammar school ability. However, quite simply the document washes its hands of problems, merely noting that panellists should only be appointed if they have the necessary equipment or facilities; no mention of expertise, confidence or specific training for remote hearings. Parents are dismissed with the patronising: ‘It is recommended that appeal panels bear in mind that appellants may be less familiar with this kind of meeting’. No explicit mention of the many who may have no experience whatever, nor the ability to manage conferencing. 

On the following pages you will find sections on: Some General Principles in the RegulationsNew Deadlines and Timescales;  Effect of the Temporary Regulations on Hearing AppealsWelsh Office RegulationsAppeals decided on the basis of the written submissions onlyConcluding Thoughts


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2 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 30 April 2020 14:17 posted by Zoey

    I received an email from KCC this morning, stating that they will be writing to the schools with the new dates within the next couple of weeks. The wait continues...Thanks for your website Peter, it’s full of very useful information,

  • Comment Link Monday, 27 April 2020 18:03 posted by Natalie Owens

    I have had an email from KCC stating I should hear from schools as to procedure end of this week/beginning of next. Although I note in your information about they are not due to have a meeting until 5th May? PETER: Thanks for that and I have now removed the reference to the Meeting as I presume it is simply to explain agreed procedure to those involved (and good luck to them)

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