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Primary school appeal hearing- advice please!

(17 Posts)
busymummy79 Thu 23-May-13 09:08:00

Hi, I was hoping for some advice, I have a hearing in a couple of weeks for my daughter primary school place, and am really nervous.

Is there anyone who has been through a primary school appeals hearing/sat on a panel/or is a school governor?

I applied for a school for my daughter on medical grounds, she suffers from juvenile arthritis and has mobility problems, and applied on the grounds that the school has a better physical structure for my daughter to get around, no stairs, non-slip flooring etc..(which her allocated school doesn't have) it's closer to her GP, hospitals for appts, or when she is ill, limiting the time she is off and is quicker for us to reach her from our places of work when she needs our support.

I submitted my app form with letters of support from GP, nurse, and hospital consultants and we got rejected on the grounds that the health professionals did not make a clear enough case, and they didn't say why it would be detrimental for my dd to attend another school, although I covered the latter part in my cover letter.

I have spoken to equality and commission act who have told me how disability discrimination has occurred, child legal services have told me which parts of the schools admissions code may not have been complied with, but v non committal limited phone service! ? I have included all this info in my appeals letter.

My MP has written a letter of support, and also have letters from health professionals again, further emphasising the importance of my dd attending this school and detriment of attending another. Her current preschool have also written a letter to describe the impact of her condition whilst in her current school, and how much time she misses as its far from us, how it's affecting her education etc.

I am trying to prepare for the LA's arguments (although their case papers are not sent to me until 5 working days before the hearing date), but it is an infant size class appeal, so I know they'll argue prejudice, but I also know the school has had more than 30 kids in a class before due to appeals so has coped and it may not be ideal but it sets a precedence. I think the school will be reluctant to give me this in writing, and the couple of times I?ve called them for information about the school, they?ve been very hostile, and not very helpful. I don?t have enough time to request under the freedom of information act. Do you know how I can get this information?

My arguments cover the three areas that you can make a claim against under a infant size appeal

Their other main argument will be the professionals didn?t make a clear enough case to why it would be detrimental for my dd to attend another school.

In my appeals form I?ve put that it?s unreasonable to expect the health professionals to research the physical layouts of other schools, they are not experts in schools admissions applications, however, I did include the detriment in my cover letter. Therefore my argument is going to be (1) The decision to refuse admission was unreasonable in the circumstances of the case - that I think the admissions rule for medical grounds is unfair and discriminatory in terms of my dd?s condition - constitutes indirect discrimination. They will argue that they can?t have a rule to suit everyone as it is proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim, (seems like this is a trump card for all of my arguments) so this would be weak, any suggestions of how I can strengthen it?

My arguments will be a (2) mistake has been made ?i.e her condition hasn?t been accepted under criteria 2 ? medical grounds with all the evidence provided, if it was she would have been offered a place (she currently falls under distance, which is 1.8km away, and they've taken in kids from a max 1.5km away, so we have no chance this way.

(3)My child would have been offered a place if the arrangements had not been contrary to the mandatory provisions in the School Admissions Code- The LA have failed to make appropriate arrangements to accommodate my child?s condition, and by doing so have prevented her from benefitting from her education to the fullest extent that her condition allows, has placed her at a disadvantage in relation to other children without a similar disability which constitutes discrimination. I have quoted parts of the equality act, and described how my dd?s condition falls under each one, throughout I have also emphasised my argument FOR my dd to attend the school and detriment of her attending another school.

I would appreciate any other advice, esp in regards to the info on school numbers etc...

Thank you
x

Galena Thu 23-May-13 09:18:53

I know this isn't terribly helpful, but in our LA they have removed medical criteria from the list, because 'every school can be adapted to suit any child' and admitting that only one school meets a child's needs can be seen as discrimination because they should have the same choice as any other child.

I reckon they will argue along those lines and that your jobs may change location so they can't give a place on those grounds. It is hard though and I will say I have no experience in this area.

Good luck with the hearing though!

tiggytape Thu 23-May-13 09:33:02

To over some of your points:
I also know the school has had more than 30 kids in a class before due to appeals so has coped and it may not be ideal but it sets a precedence.
No - this never sets a precedence at ICS appeals. 30 is the limit by law. There is no discretion. However sometimes there will be 31 or 32 in the class with 1 or 2 "excepted children". Excepted means they don’t' count towards the figures. This is limited to a few special cases clearly defined eg child with a statement naming the school who joins half way through the year. Even if you get it in writing it won't help your own case at all.

The decision to refuse admission was unreasonable
Yes - if the medical evidence clearly states she needs to attend this school (or a school with features defined by the specialists that match this school eg 'no stairs') and if the LA were aware of this at application stage then the decision to refuse her admission can be argued to be unreasonable.

mistake has been made
Yes - if there is priority given for medical conditions (there isn't always) then you can argue it is a mistake that her application was not placed in this category and that error cost her her place

which constitutes discrimination
Less clear. The School Admissions Code allows schools and councils to choose to give NO priority at all for any medical conditions that aren't statemented. There is nothing that says medical conditions, even those that constitute a disability, have to be catered for at all at admissions stage and the presumption is that all schools can meet all needs. This does seem to fly in the face of other equality legislation though but purely on the grounds of the Admissions Code, that argument is less clear that your others.

For an ICS case, you need to focus heavily (as you have done) on the evidence that not admitting your child is unreasonable and her application was incorrectly processed. Talking about class numbers cannot help you. Even if the school has massive classrooms, tons of resources and 33 children in the current Reception class, this doesn't help your appeal because 30 children per teacher is set in stone by law and nothing trumps that except the 'excepted children' rule which is all case by case basis. If you win your appeal, your child becomes one of these ‘excepted children’ and takes the class legally over 30.

busymummy79 Thu 23-May-13 20:56:34

Thanks Galena for your reply. The borough that we live in, do have medical grounds as criteria 2. Hasn't been removed. Good point about the job, both myself and my husband work in London and travel by train, due to the nature of our jobs, even if we did change them, we would still be working in the city. We have also submitted letters from our employers which prove them we are in perm full time employment in London. This point is a secondary argument for my dd to attend the school, the main argument is the physical layout and features it offers which would accommodate her condition better than any other.

Thanks Tiggytape - I now have it writing about the max kids in a class, they currently have 32 in reception. I wanted to find this out so they can't argue that they would need to employ extra staff or build additional accommodation which are the qualifying measured they could argue. Understand its not a reason for them to accept my dd

Unreasonable - they will argue that the case wasn't clear enough, and I think the wording could have been stronger but there are lots of valid points for reasons for in the letters and her condition is described clearly in relation to it, so I need to highlight all the good points

Mistake - medical grounds is criteria 2, so this will be a strong argument I'm hoping

Thanks for the guidance on what I need to focus on

prh47bridge Thu 23-May-13 21:42:49

they can't argue that they would need to employ extra staff or build additional accommodation

They can and must argue that they will need to take qualifying measures if your daughter is admitted. Those are the rules. The fact that they may already need to take qualifying measures is irrelevant.

I would be careful about the MP's letter of support. It is unlikely to carry much weight with the appeal panel and they may feel it is inappropriate.

I don't think you have an argument that they have failed to comply with the mandatory provisions of the Admissions Code. Nothing you have said indicates a failure to comply. Equally it is not clear that there is any breach of equality legislation in the admission arrangements per se. As Tiggytape says, the assumption is that all schools can cope with any disabled child. If the allocated school failed to make reasonable adjustments that would be grounds for a claim under equality legislation but not admitting your daughter to your preferred school is unlikely to qualify.

The bar for proving that a decision was unreasonable is very high. It is worth trying but to win on that ground you have to convince them that the decision flies in the face of logic, not just that it is wrong. I think your best chance is to argue that the admission criteria have not been correctly and impartially applied and, if they had been, your daughter would have been placed in the medical category.

tiggytape Thu 23-May-13 22:22:24

I don't think you have understood the point about reception numbers.
It is a law not a guildeline - 30 if the legal maximum and nothing you say can change that. If your child was in Year 3 or above you would be right to cite larger class sizes as evidence the school couls cope because the law restricting class sizes to 30 ceases to apply after Year 2.

If you win your appeal you become one of the very rare and exceptional cases to be admitted to a reception class despite the law on class sizes. However, you cannot use precedent to win. The 2 extra children currently in reception don't even count towards the numbers (hence they are called excepted) such is the exceptional nature of them being admitted.

You have zero chance of winning an ICS appeal by arguing that they have the capacity to take more than 30 - the law says they don't.
You do however have a chance to make your child an excepted child (one that doesn't count towards the class size so can be admitted to an already full class) if you can prove the LA acted unreasonably by ignoring your medical evidence at the admissions stage and therefore wrongly denied you a place.

Your journey time / work logistics do not carry much is any weight at appeal unless they are somehow tied in with medical need. They carry little weight at normal appeals let alone ICS appeals simply because these factors are applicable to virtually every family.

admission Thu 23-May-13 22:58:53

There is only one argument that is going to succeed at appeal and that is that the decision of the LA to not give you admission under cat 2 was unreasonable and therefore led to a mistake being made in the admission criteria order.
Given the rules that are pertinent for any infant class regs case that is the only argument that you can put forward that has a chance of being accepted by the admission appeal panel. I think you need to go back and look carefully at the letters that were written for you by the various parties. They need to be saying "in my professional opinion" or other such words. If the current letters you have say "Mrs smith tells me" then they will carry little weight at appeal and are almost certainly the reason why your application was rejected by the LA in the first place. If possible you need to get further letters that specifically say that they have examined daughter and in their opinion daughter needs a school without stairs and anti-slip floor and they recommend this school

busymummy79 Thu 23-May-13 23:10:59

Understand re the MP, I was so shocked after we were turned down and after all the letter of support I had submitted, I went to see the MP to see if she could help, and she offered to support me by writing a letter.

Thanks for further explanation of class size, will stay away from this.

Proving the decision is unreasonable is challenging and I do think my argument for this would be weak.

Proving a mistake has been made is stronger, but I have also argued failure to comply with admissions code, I have quoted parts of the code, backed up with equality act and justified how my dd has been failed on each part that I have quoted, I.e. explained now it relates to her medical need.

Would either of you mind reviewing my appeals letter and giving me my advice, if I emailed it to you? Appreciate by help, I am under no illusion that this is going to be tough, and a very small chance I will win, but I'm going to give it my all.
Thanks

prh47bridge Fri 24-May-13 00:22:17

I would be happy to review your letter. Feel free to PM me.

fatfloosie Fri 24-May-13 12:21:18

Hi busymummy79. I appealed last year and just wanted to offer you some advice for the actual appeal hearing:

Write down in full what you actually want to say. I had notes and thought I knew my own case backwards but once I was actually in the appeal my mind went a bit blank and I floundered a bit and my notes were swimming around in front of me and I struggled to say anything sensible! If I could have just read out some prepared paragraphs it would have been a lot easier!

Although I'm no expert, I would also agree with admission - 'There is only one argument that is going to succeed at appeal and that is that the decision of the LA to not give you admission under cat 2 was unreasonable and therefore led to a mistake being made in the admission criteria order' - and think you would be better to focus almost exclusively on this in your appeal. You are much better off arguing one clearly defined and winnable point really well, rather than several points that modge into one long bleat once you are nervous in the appeal.

Good luck! We lost but now love our allocated school so all fine in the end anyway.

admission Fri 24-May-13 12:21:26

PM me, I will look at your letter

Ajsmclm1523 Wed 05-Jun-13 19:33:20

Hi I'm new to this but could really use some help

We did not get my youngest girl in to the same school as her sister who will be going in to yr5 as of sept this year

We put my older girls school on the admissions 1st then 3 other school and did not get any of them

We don't live in the same area as the school we live in hanworth and my older one goes to school in mortlake

We got offered one in Hampton

I can not get to two different schools for the same time in the morning and then back to my place of work for 10am (also can't afford any morning/breakfast clubs)

The reason my older one goes to school in mortlake is because my mum looks after my girls while me and my husband both work full time (as we can not afford to have any other childcare)

My husband starts work at 6am each morning
I start work at 10am with the possibility of my shift changing at short notice
Also my parents live over the bridge from the school should anything happen they can get there and be with them until we get there

I work in Twickenham
My husband works in Teddington

Also neither of us can drive and have to rely on public transport to get about

Our appeal is on the 27th of June

Any advice would be hugely appreciated

baffledmum Wed 05-Jun-13 20:18:11

Unfortunately ajsmclm1523 none of the reasons you give are grounds for appeal. If you look at it differently, why should they put your child ahead of a SAHM or SAHD living locally who could get them to school and is also on the waiting list? Appreciate that may feel harsh but how your life is run outside of the school won't win an appeal.

So many parents / carers come up agains this, it is a tremendous shock when it happens. Good luck,

Perhaps look for a local school that you can get them both to, even if it means moving your Y5 child?

prh47bridge Wed 05-Jun-13 22:10:13

As baffledmum says, the reasons you have given will not win an appeal. If yours is an infant class size case you can only win if a mistake has been made. So if your older daughter's school gives priority to siblings but did not put your younger daughter in that category that would be a valid case for appeal. However, if the school does not give priority to siblings or limits that to families living close to the school I'm afraid it is unlikely you will win your appeal. Sorry.

cory Thu 06-Jun-13 09:13:40

"As Tiggytape says, the assumption is that all schools can cope with any disabled child."

How does this one actually work? Several of the schools around here are in Victorian buildings with no lifts; the only way you could adapt those for a wheelchair user would be by razing them to the ground and building them up again and that is likely to take more than the few months before the start of the next term. When they say "can cope with a disabled child" do they mean sticking them in a classroom on their own with a TA because they can't get around the school with the others? Or do they mean giving them full access to the curriculum.
(am somewhat bitter here as dd missed out on essential parts of the junior school curriculum due to being in the wrong school- yes, of course you can sue but that's not going to solve anything in the immediate future)

We did win our appeal (admittedly for secondary school) on disability grounds: I think what swayed the case was that the professionals in the new letters submitted for the appeal gave a very clear description of the features dd's school would need to have, rather than mentioning a specific school. And they explained exactly what part of her disability meant what needs. And I had specifically told them they must only speak from their own knowledge of dd. Our job was then to show the panel (with measurements etc) that our choice of school was the only one that matched these criteria.

We did find there was a profound lack of understanding of disability on the part of the LA: they refused to recognise our choice as a suitable one because it was not on their list of schools with disabled access. When we enquired, it turned out that it hadn't made the list because it did not have full provision for the visually impaired. So they stuck dd - who has normal vision but was a wheelchair user- in a school that had no disabled access at all, as our choice of a school not on their list had clearly demonstrated that she couldn't really be disabled hmm

To their thinking all disabled people are the same and have exactly the same needs and if you don't have the needs on their list you are not disabled.

The panel were a lot commonsensical and willing to think of dd as a individual. They seemed quite shocked by the LA's reasoning and gave the LA representative quite a hard time. But they listened sympathetically and with a good deal of insight to our explanations.

I have often wished I could go back and thank them.

prh47bridge Thu 06-Jun-13 12:49:18

The assumption is that all schools can cope. It is up to the appellant to show that the school will not be able to cope with their child's disability.

cory Thu 06-Jun-13 15:37:09

Ah right. Our LEA actually had a list. But as my post showed, that wasn't an ideal solution either.

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