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Thursday, 02 July 2020 20:46

Kent School Admission Appeals under Lock-down, Including Two Very Different Experiences

News Update: I have been contacted by a number of Thanet families whose children were found selective but not offered grammar school places because they live too far away and the grammar schools are full. They were placed on waiting lists, but have been shocked to be moved further down the list. This is because, at the recent admission appeals, several non-selective children were found to be of grammar school ability. The rules require that they are also added to the waiting list and if they live closer go ahead of those already on it! I have previously looked at the dire situation in Thanet here,  with several of these families being offered one of the county's least popular schools. Sadly I have nothing positive to suggest.  

I am starting to receive some feedback on school admission appeals for Kent families, decided on the basis of written submissions only,  although most are happening very late in the year and many have not yet happened. This method is likely to have been the norm for both KCC Panels and other organisations running appeals where there are multiple appeals for a school. It is in my view the only practical way forward for grammar school and probably other multiple appeals as I identified here back in April. However, it is a variation breaking with the hopelessly impractical model outlined by the government, which I described as 'a chink of light in the regulations'.  The use of written submissions only was put forward as one of three possible options, the other two being telephone and video conferencing.    

Most appellants appear content with this process whatever the outcome, it being far less stressful than the 'normal' appeals of previous yearsespecially in the view of families who have past experience of these. Others are looking to challenge the outcome on grounds that it was very different from the model laid down by the government, as explained here.  However, as I concluded in that article, the model is not obligatory, so such a challenge is unlikely to succeed.

I have not yet heard of the experience of local families encountering telephone or video conferencing for multiple appeals, although KCC appears to be using the former for some individual appeals and I look below at one such in-year hearing. I will update this article as and if I receive further reports of different experiences.  

The regulation covering timescale for appeals has been relaxed from the normal requirement to hear them within 40 school days of the deadline for submitting appeals. It now reads: 'Appeals should be determined as soon as is reasonably practicable and in accordance with the deadlines set by the temporary regulations. Admission authorities are urged to determine appeals lodged as part of the main admissions round before the start of the September term, wherever possible'.  At the time of writing a large number of grammar school appeals have not yet been heard, possibly because of a shortage of panellists. Non-selective appeals tend to follow in which case they are going to be very late! I don't believe any of this was avoidable but it will have set up immense stress in families unable to settle or to plan for next year, and further issues on top of Coronavirus for some schools unsure of their Year Seven numbers in September. This applies to both those schools being allocated additional children by Appeal Panels and those who lose them through successful appeals elsewhere. 
 
Appeals decided on the basis of the written submissions only
I have explored these previously,  and have now seen a number of decisions sent out by Panel Clerks following such appeal hearings. Most are careful to make clear that full consideration has been given to the case in view of the absence of interaction by the appellant. I think this is most important to demonstrate the fairness of the hearing which now happens completely out of sight of the appellant. However, I was sent a copy of one yesterday that shocked me by the nature of its inadequacy, conveying no impression the Panel had spent time considering it according to the regulations, nor any indication of how they reached their decision.  The Admission Appeals Code of Practice requires that
 
The panel must ensure that the letter is expressed clearly without the use of jargon, to enable parties to:
a) see what matters were taken into consideration;
b) understand what view the panel took on questions of fact or law which the panel had to resolve; and
c) know broadly on what basis the appeal panel reached its decision and, in the case of the unsuccessful party, enable them to understand why they did not succeed.

Quite frankly that grammar school decision letter failed on all three counts. It did list the child's strengths which to me appeared quite impressive. However, according to the letter, the panel then simply ' decided that there was insufficient academic evidence to prove to the Panel that your child is of grammar school ability', with no clue as to how it reached this decision. This probably took the clerk ten minutes to dash off, put inside a generic top and tail, which falsely stated that 'the school was oversubscribed and could not take additional pupils without causing prejudice to the efficient provision of education or efficient use of resources'. I understand that a large number of other appeals were successful in this case, so the appellant has been left bemused as to why they lost out, especially as there now appears to be an unusual pattern in the nature of some unsuccessful appeals. 

In short, it is crucial where there is a written only appeal, that the decision letter offers evidence the case was properly considered and not just rubber-stamped out of sight of the appellant.  

In Year Admission Appeal heard by Telephone Consultation 
The following outlines a recent one-off appeal hearing and shows the value of such an approach in these cases, although the hearing took up a whole hour and so would be impractical for multiple appeals, especially by the time all the links were in place. Indeed, there was an additional person present to manage these and leave the clerk to focus on the hearing. What follows was written for me by the parents following their successful appeal.
During the Coronavirus lockdown period, the Kent County Council school appeals process has had to look to using unprecedented means of running appeals. Primarily, this has meant that where there are single appeals for a school, some families have been offered the option of a written-word appeal, a telephone appeal, or the postponement of the appeal until after lockdown.

As parents of a child looking to move schools mid-term, without any idea of when lockdown might end, and needing a solution before the next academic year, we chose the telephone option.

While the structure of a telephone appeal is similar to a face to face meeting, with the clerk sending out details in advance, and with a panel chair and two colleagues making up the independent appeal board, a note-taker, a presenting officer (representing the views of the school) and a clerk all present on the call, there are several benefits to a telephone appeal over a face to face meeting.

On the TV show Dragon’s Den, the people pitching their idea have to climb a staircase before standing in front of the panel which decides their fate. This is done to increase psychological and physiological stressors – to create tension. It’s the same with face to face meetings. Rushing across town to attend a meeting in an imposing building with strangers is stressful. On the phone, these aspects are cut out entirely – it is so much calmer to simply pick up the phone and be ready to talk.

Nobody can see each other – this isn’t a face time or zoom call, it is an audio-only telephone conference call. This cuts out the possibility of the fear of people bringing unconscious bias to the table based on personal appearance. All that is presented by all parties is the tone of voice and words. In this respect, it would be similar to relying on a written-word-only appeal – but with the bonus of being able to answer more and deeper questions from the panel which may give them enough information to sway the decision in the parents’ favour.

Meetings with high stakes are stressful for those seeking an outcome that has a relatively low chance of going their way. There is a lot to process in sensory terms – appearance (are you well turned out enough?), body language (are you too informal?), facial expressions (what does that expression mean?) as well as the words people use to present their case. By paring things back to voice-only calls, the people representing their child can focus more clearly on what they are saying, without worrying about all the other things they need to do to make a good impression at a face to face meeting.

For parents with disabilities, a phone call is also a good ‘reasonable adjustment’ (a legal requirement for people with disabilities) under the Equality Act – it may well be a lot more accessible than a face to face meeting for people with impairments such as anxiety, autism, physical disabilities which affect mobility, and people with chronic pain and energy impairments. Not having to endure pain or expend energy attending a meeting in person makes for a calmer more centred parent more able to reason well in the appeal call.

At the beginning of the call, the chair will ask participants to identify themselves, then set out the order of who will present their arguments, and then who will question and be questioned. On this basis, the call proceeds reasonably, rationally, and calmly. At the end of the call, the chair thanks everybody for their input and promises a returned verdict within five working days. This is emailed under password protection.

The call is then followed up by another call from a Council Admissions Officer who offers the parents support and signposting, should the outcome not be the one that they want.

They may have come about as a short-term solution for these difficult times, but telephone appeals are arguably a less stressful option for parents, and for the Council, perhaps a more time and cost-effective addition to the means of conducting the appeals process going forward.

So there you have it, although perhaps not all such appeals will be heard so sympathetically. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2020 19:58

5 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 09 July 2020 18:13 posted by James W

    My son passed the Kent Test but didn't get a place at Chatham and Clarendon Grammar because we live too far away.. he is fairly high up the waiting list but I was shocked to discover he has now been moved down it. This is because some children who failed the Kent Test have gone to appeal and now been told they are on the waiting list, higher than my son whose life has collapsed around him. We turned down Hartsdown which we were offered but did not apply for and he has nowhere to go next year. Can you explain what happened and advise us. PETER: I am afraid these are the rules and I expected something like this. Thanet is in a complete mess and I can't see anything you can do. See my previous article at https://www.kentadvice.co.uk/peters-blog/news-a-comments/item/1264-oversubscription-vacancies-kent-grammar-schools-2020.html?start=5#East. Sadly, I have no advice nor comfort to offer. You are certainly not alone (I have been contacted by several in the same situation). Your choices appear to be to go back to Hartsdown which is not full or Home Educate, but be realistic, there are unlikely be spaces in future years. I am so sorry.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 07 July 2020 05:04 posted by Gerry M.

    We are one of those families who were very happy with the process, apart from the interminable wait. This was our second experience of an appeal, although at a different school with different organisers. Worst was the longer wait heaping on the stress. But last time when we knew our daughter's future depended on our performance was far worse. This time around, once the evidence was posted, all we had to do was wait! I would vote for the written submission every time. PETER: in spite of the two experiences described below, I can understand this and the majority of my correspondents agree with you. Just one quibble. I like to think that your first appeal depended mainly on the evidence as well, not just your performance

  • Comment Link Monday, 06 July 2020 12:45 posted by JM

    We've received a poor example of a decision letter. Following a cut and paste section of our grounds of appeal (which were pretty good and supported by our child's school), we were not informed of the panel's reasoning for concluding that our child would not be able to cope with the "challenge, rigour and pace" of the academic curriculum at grammar school.
    The only reason given was that there was no compelling evidence to allow the panel to overlook the result in the one Kent Test paper she didn't pass (despite the evidence we had presented of her strength in this subject). A proper explanation would have been welcomed. Instead we are left feeling that her case wasn"t really considered at all (however true that may be).

  • Comment Link Sunday, 05 July 2020 00:01 posted by P.R.H.

    We didn't get in at Norton Knatchbull. The dismissal letter appeared modelled on the one you quote. Not impressed, but I think you are saying there is nothing to be done. Is this correct? You don't say if it is worth complaining. PETER: It is of course up to you, but you have to prove injustice. I think there is maladministration through the content of such letters, but you are also required to show that the process followed could have resulted in a wrong decision. That is difficult. Get hold of the hearing notes if you can as a first stage.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 04 July 2020 23:42 posted by Geraldine

    A friend and I both appealed for the same grammar school. We got in, they didn't! Two thoughtful letters left us both thinking the process had been followed through well. It clearly all depends on the nature of the individual panel make up. Keep up the good work!

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