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Independent appeal panel. Can someone explain.

(65 Posts)
gaba Tue 14-Jan-14 14:22:43

I am probably missing something, and I am sure I am just stupid but, I have a few little questions:

Who decides on the members who make up the panel?
Can anyone apply to be on the panels?
Where do they look for panel members?
Do they always use the same panel members?
What can we (the appellants) know about our panel?
What checks and balances are carried out by what authority to establish the Independence of the members?
If I were to find out something disturbing about a member what can I do?
If the answer to any of the questions is the LEA and the school you are appealing against is its own authority as many are these days, how can these appeals possibly be called independent?

Just imagine if in a court of the jury was always made up of the same jurors, and they were all on day release from prison, and, for some reason they always found in favor of the defendant. Imagine if the over subscribed prison service were paying the cons expenses while they served as jurors. Do you think the public would have faith in the system?

My apologies in advance to those who do serve on panels, and I know are true honest and give invaluable advice on these forums, but that little analogy may help you guys can see it from the eyes of an independent member of the public.

PatriciaHolm Tue 14-Jan-14 14:53:10

Panellists are volunteers, recruited by the local county council and given relevant training. Each panel needs a lay member (someone with no paid experience of education) and also someone with some experience such as a teacher, or parent. All must be independent of the authority, school and parties concerned. There is also a trained clerk who can advise on legal and admin issues. Members are unpaid apart from expenses.

The council will vet applicants to make sure they meet these criteria, and should have a large enough panel that not all appeals are heard by the same people.

Decisions are heavily guided by regulations, especially in KS1 where there is very little scope to go over a class size of 30. Other years there is more of a matter of a balance of evidence.

If you genuinely believe your appeal panel didn't obey the law, or wasn't independent, you are free to make a complaint.

gaba Tue 14-Jan-14 16:01:42

Thanks Patricia.

What does it mean : unpaid except 'expenses'
If I wanted to 'volunteer' where would I put my name down for it?
Sounds like a nice little earner to me!

You said that the council organises the panelists, but my understanding was that the LEA appoints them, and in the case of the school being the LEA that would be interesting.

Here is another question :

If there were 55 appeals heard last year and not a single one was successful is it worth anyone ever trying an appeal?

Surely this is just a little 'junket' for some admin bods, and window dressing to appease the disenfranchised.

PatriciaHolm Tue 14-Jan-14 17:14:43

Expenses - receipted travel expenses, subsidence, childcare costs incurred for attendance. Not an "earner" at all; no profit made.

Your county council will have details of how to apply. You would need to meet the criteria of independence, which I seriously doubt you would given the negative attitude you seem to have towards panels!

For academies/ foundation schools/voluntary aided schools the admissions authority is the academy trust/governing body. For other schools it will be the LEA. The Trust/Governors would be bound by the Admissions Code as much as any other body.

You clearly have issues with the process; I'm guessing you have had an appeal denied. Just because all last year's appeals were denied doesn't mean it's not possible to win; it's possible that none of those met the criteria, of for example showing that the detriment to school of admitting is less than that to the child not being admitted.

We can't all get our children into the schools we would like in a perfect world. You need to be realistic (which if I recall from a previous thread you weren't being very!)

titchy Tue 14-Jan-14 17:19:37

I assume you meant they pay subsistence Patricia not subsidence!!!!!

ComeIntoTheGardenMaud Tue 14-Jan-14 17:46:47

Can't add much to what PatriciaHolm has said.

In all my years of being on panels, I have never received anything in expenses.

Where the school is its own admissions authority then, in my experience, it invites in panel members from the LEA's pool.

It's always worth appealing but it is also worth reading the admissions and appeals codes and reaching a realistic appreciation of your chances of success, given the requirements of both codes.

lougle Tue 14-Jan-14 17:52:23

Gaba, I'm a panelist so can answer your questions smile

I'm allowed to claim for actual travel costs if traveling by public transport, on production of a receipt for those costs. Alternatively, I'm allowed to claim mileage at something like 55p per mile, but that is subject to tax, or 40p per mile untaxed. Mileage claims are subject to audit. I'm also allowed to claim cost of parking if I drive in.

The regulations require the Local Authority to advertise every 3 years. I applied simply by googling my LA and 'independent appeals panel' then found a form and sent it off.

The Manager of the Independent Appeals Process is an LA employee, but is at 'arms length' of the LA and acts independently. If parents phone him he will advise them as far as is legal, as to the process and what their role in the process is.

To be on the panel you must satisfy the co-ordinator of the service that you are not an 'excluded person'. The list of exclusions is in paragraph 1.7 of the appeals code :

"a)a member of the local authority which is the admission authority or in whose area the school in question is located;
b) a member or former member of the governing body of the school in question;
c) employed by the local authority or governing body of the school in question, other than as a teacher or teaching assistant4;
d) any person who has, or at any time has had, any connection with the authority, school or any person in sub-paragraph c) above which might reasonably be taken to raise doubts about that person’s ability to act impartially;
e) any person who has not attended training required by the admission authority arranging the appeal panel."

In my Local Authority, the applicants fill in a form, where they declare any connection with any school in the Local Authority, past or present, plus any connection that their direct family hold.

I am excluded from hearing appeals for My DD2's old school and DD2/3's current school, and it's unlikely I'd be asked to hear an appeal for my DH's school, because he is a caretaker there, although I could do. My DD1's school is a special school, so they don't fall under these arangements.

The service has a pool of panel members. They try to balance the appeal hearings carefully. e.g. if the panel are all male, then they have a female clerk. The majority of panel members are of the older generation and male, as that's the demographic of the applicants. I am a female in my 30's, so I am likely to be brought in to balance the panel on occasion.

There has to be at least one 'lay member' and one 'non-lay member' per panel - that is at least one who has experience of education (other than their own!) and one who doesn't have any connection with education.

The appellants will always know the names of the panelists prior to the hearing, and whether they are 'lay member' or 'non-lay member'.

If you were to find out something disturbing, you should speak to the appeals service manager to alert them. It depends what it is really?

In terms of your analogy, the panel have nothing to do with the admissions department. The expenses are laid out in the Code, and are non-variable. Equally, the existence of the panel and their function is laid out in the Code and is non-negotiable. There is no incentive in any way to find in favour of the LA. In fact, we have great power to over-rule the LA on our discretion in prejudice cases. Our hands are quite firmly tied in Infant Class Size cases though.

If there were 55 appeals last year and not one succeeded, is it worth appealing?

It's always worth appealing because it is your right in law and you may be successful.

If there were 55 Infant Class Size appeals, then it's unsurprising that they weren't successful. They very rarely are (about 0.4%), because unless a mistake has been made, the bar is set so very high.

If there were 55 prejudice cases and none successful, it depends what the conditions of the school in question are. A very oversubscribed, bursting at the seams, high EAL, high SEN, with little communal space would be far harder to win an appeal for, than a school with huge communal spaces, 30 in a KS2 class and very little SEN/EAL, generally undersubscribed but happen to be full in the applicable year group. This would be because the prejudice would be far greater to begin with at the first school, so the case would have to be much stronger for the appellant.

lougle Tue 14-Jan-14 17:54:40

Additionally, panelists are normally not given schools in their home vicinity. So I am asked to do panels for schools in towns 10+ miles away from where I live. I know there are panel members who live in the areas I'm attending appeals for, but its seen as good practice to demonstrate that independence whenever possible, so they wouldn't be asked to attend, appeals for local schools.

lougle Tue 14-Jan-14 17:55:12

If you want more specific advice/info/suggestions, feel free to PM.

gaba Tue 14-Jan-14 18:32:27

Thanks Lougle,

That was very reassuring, however there are a few issues here namely :

e) any person who has not attended training required by the admission authority arranging the appeal panel.

This is the thing, where the LEA or LA whatever is the school how can there be any reliable checks or balances?

Thanks for the PM offer, but may as well keep it on the board, there is one thing silly little me can understand and that is '0 chance of a place.' So this is more academic than actually seeking help.

If there is no money in it though, seriously, do you just have too much spare time?

Reincarnatedpig Tue 14-Jan-14 18:32:28

I volunteer as a panelist and also chair of an appeals panel. I sometimes take my own annual leave from my job to do do - I get 3 "volunteer" days a year from work. I joined when saw an advert on my local council's webpage, and was prompted by my own awful experiences.

I get paid nothing. We get tea and coffee from a machine and sandwiches if an all-dayer. Sandwiches are paid for by the council/LEA which is paid by local schools (mostly academies now).I don't claim my fares as I have a season ticket.

In my opinion the appeals process exists as a safety net in case in admissions authority has got things horribly wrong or new information comes to light. The panels I was on allowed no appeals this year. Last year we allowed 4. Many parents see appeals as a second go at the admissions process which it isn't.

A lot of fellow panelists are retired people - many are school governors or people such as barristers, retired civil service or business people. Then again there are parents like me. We have excellent clerks who are there to advise on legal matters and who organize everything.

gaba Tue 14-Jan-14 18:38:59

Thanks Patricia darling,

"We can't all get our children into the schools we would like in a perfect world. You need to be realistic (which if I recall from a previous thread you weren't being very!)"

That was a long time ago, but my children still do not have a school place offered to them.

My children have been out of school for all this time. I know I am being unrealistic, but I was really hoping that they would be able to go to school as I was, and receive an education.

Silly me.

cory Tue 14-Jan-14 18:48:59

The LEA do have a duty to find your children a school place, gaba, and to offer them transport if it is too far from their home. If they have not done this, they are breaking the law.

(obviously, if they have done it and you have turned them down, that is a different matter- they have a duty to educate all children, not to educate all children at their preferred school)

I found the appeals panel for dd's secondary very helpful and intelligent and totally independent of the LEA (whose representatives made a total dog's dinner of their evidence). Even so, I don't think many people got through. But that would have been to do with the strenght of their case, though.

lougle Tue 14-Jan-14 19:11:21

"If there is no money in it though, seriously, do you just have too much spare time?"

Our society depends on people giving up their time to fulfil functions which are unpaid.

-Jury service
-School Governors


I have a DD who has SN and because of that I'm unable to work right now. I have skills that can be used in the community, so I volunteer at a couple of schools (DD1's and DD2/3's) and I'm a Governor at a couple of schools and I sit on appeals panels, etc.

Who has told you there is '0 chance of a place'?

If the school you appeal for has reached its PAN, or is over PAN, and is in years 3 upwards, or is in years R, 1 or 2 and has reached its PAN and its class size is less than 30, you have to be able to show that your child needs the place more than the school and its pupils suffer from taking another child.

If the school you appeal for has reached its PAN and its class size is 30, in years R, 1 or 2, then you have to show that a mistake has been made that cost your child the place, or the rules weren't applied fairly, or the decision was unreasonable (legally, not in the general sense).

tiggytape Tue 14-Jan-14 19:16:02

I am sorry to hear you still have no school. Did the LEA ever make a formal offer (I certainly hope so!)

As I remember, you moved to a new area and therefore arrived as an in-year applicant so could not get any local school place since all local schools were full. This is a pretty common scenario. Many people get lucky from waiting lists eventually but have to resign themselves to a longer school commute, private schooling or home ed whilst they wait.

If your appeals have all been on the basis that you want a school near home then it isn't entirely surprising you haven't won (or that other similar appeals haven't been successful). Logistical concerns aren't really what appeals are for (unless a child has a disability affecting ability to travel and access a school at all).

Appeals for secondary look at the school's case when it says it is full (how full is it, has it coped with more pupils in the past, is it bursting or just a few over numbers?). And it looks at the parents reasons for asking for a place (wanting a shorter journey carries less weight than showing the school offers things that meets the child's needs eg the same courses if they have already started their GCSEs).

lougle Tue 14-Jan-14 19:17:14

Don't forget that the Appeals Panel is subject to the scrutiny of the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), or Education Funding Agency (EFA) for academies, which means that if a parent feels they should have won their appeal, the LGO can review the decision.

ireallyshouldbeworking Tue 14-Jan-14 19:21:33

Hi Gaba,
I run a pro bono unit which provides completely free advice and representation for parents at any stage of the exclusion process, including appeal/ review panels. If you are asking because you have a child this applies to, or you have concerns about your own panel, please do PM me and I will be happy to see if we can help you. If you're interested in the independence etc of the panels in general though, I'm sure the experienced panellists on this thread are better placed to let you know what the recruitment process/ regulation of panelists is like!

cory Tue 14-Jan-14 19:23:16

my experience was that the people with a strong case got in, the people without a strong case (who just "wanted" this particular school because it was supposedly the best one) didn't

So your best bet here is to prepare the case as carefully as you can:

make it positive not negative (so nothing about how school Y is shit and you don't want your dc there, all about why they need to go to school X)

never ever make any exaggerated statement either in your written appeal or during your hearing- it will lose you credibility; make sure any statement you make can be factually proved

make sure you have correct statistics backed up by paperwork about anything you wish to claim in evidence, e.g. correctly measured distance to your house, bus/train timetables to show length of travelling- don't rely on the panel to do this (my dh brought plans of the relevant schools to illustrate lack of disabled access)

make sure you focus on your dc's needs and not your own

do not introduce any negative speculation about the LEA and the way it conducts its affairs- this is about your dc's need for this particular school, not about anything else

acknowledge the basic premiss- namely that letting more children into an already full school is going to have a detrimental effect on the children already there: your argument is that the detriment to your dc on not getting in will outweigh this

keep calm (in our case, the LEA had been totally idiotic, so my keeping calm and pleasant at all times just made them look even sillier)

gaba Tue 14-Jan-14 20:36:28

Thanks everyone.

Last time I posted on here everyone just attacked me, this time its mostly useful. I know I am not blessed with tact, but I just cant help myself but to say what I see in front of my eyes.

Yes I'm still trying to get a place, yes the council have offered a place but it would mean a 66 mile round trip for me every day and I would have to sleep in the car all day while they were there. So no I have not accepted their kind offer of the school place that they have been legally obliged to offer.

Right now I am faced with yet another impossible appeal, I am at my wits end, I don't know what to do.

cory Tue 14-Jan-14 20:38:10

But surely if it is 33 miles from where you live your dc would be entitled to transport?

ComeIntoTheGardenMaud Tue 14-Jan-14 20:44:28

For those of us who didn't see/don't remember your previous threads, can you give us a synopsis? I'm assuming mid-year move but what year groups are your children in? Any compelling circumstances beyond (naturally) wanting places in a local school? How many waiting lists are you on?

scaevola Tue 14-Jan-14 20:48:15

gaba: you received a lot of good advice on our previous thread. In which it was clear that your LEA had made to offers twice, and there are vacancies at a school nearer to you than the 33 miles which is why they are not offering you transport.

cory Tue 14-Jan-14 21:04:03

Ah, that explains it. If they can get away with no transport/cheaper transport because less far, then clearly it is their duty to try to do so (saving taxpayers' money) unless there is a special reason (such as disability) why your dc do need to attend a more distant school.

gaba Tue 14-Jan-14 21:18:20

Yes there are hundreds of schools closer, but the only one they are offering is the other side of the county.

Maybe I would be entitled to free transport, but I don't have the wherewithal to chase them through the courts to get it.

All I can do is keep trying.

VworpVworp Tue 14-Jan-14 21:33:51

Have they offered a place at a closer school? hmm

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