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Anyone used a solicitor for a school appeal?

(23 Posts)
Holymoly321 Wed 08-Mar-17 20:29:36

Our son didn't get any of his three choices and had been allocated a brand new school miles away in a very run down high crime area. The school is just six portacabins at present and there won't be permanent buildings for over another year. We are appealing for his first choice which is massively oversubscribed and allocates places at random from throughout the county. We are thinking of hiring a solicitor to help us with the appeals process but wonder if having a solicitor represent us at the appeal will work against us with the panel. Has anyone ever used a solicitor for appeals? Was it worth the money? Do you wish you'd just done it yourself? Amy info would be most helpful!

Stickerrocks Wed 08-Mar-17 21:17:37

I can't imagine why you would want to pay for a solicitor. The whole appeals process is designed for parents, it's not like a tribunal or family court.

You can't appeal against your allocated school, only why you should have been given a place in your chosen school against the admission criteria. Are you on the waiting list for your chosen school, because there may be a lot of movement over the next few weeks. Take a look at the advice given by prh47bridge and tiggytape who know the system inside out (apologies if I've missed some of the other experts).

admission Wed 08-Mar-17 22:36:56

There are two sides to this. If you do not believe that you will be able to give a concise sensible set of reasons why your child should have a place then there might be good reason to use someone like a solicitor to do it for you, who can remain calm and collective.
If however you are capable of doing this yourself then my experience as a Chair of admission appeal panels is that unless you use a solicitor who is an educational expert they do not usually do a particularly good job. They tend to assume that if they nitpick away at detail that they will create reasonable doubt but the whole basis of the appeal is to balance the two arguments and so it is on the basis of what is more likely. So they expend vast amounts of energy creating a smoke screen that is usually of no help to the parent in the appeal. They will also cost you a small fortune.

PatriciaHolm Wed 08-Mar-17 22:54:43

Assuming you are appealing based on balance of prejudice and not a legal infringement of the admissions code, I would echo the previous posters. I also sit on appeals panels.

A solicitor will have a tendency to see everything as a legal nuance to be argued, whereas your appeal will rest on how you well you can show that your child needs this school and that the prejudice to the school is outweighed by that need. Only you can know your child and their needs well enough to do this.

Appeals panels are used to parents being nervous, or not having the arguments off pat. A solicitor is highly likely simply to cost you a lot of money and run the risk of being at best irrelevant and at worst an irritant.

prh47bridge Thu 09-Mar-17 00:16:58

I generally recommend against using solicitors. Very few are experts in school admissions. Even some of the leading education lawyers are hopeless when it comes to admissions. I have come across far too many cases where solicitors have given extremely poor advice to parents. As others have indicated, solicitors who haven't got experience of admission appeals sometimes approach the hearing as if it is a court of law which can irritate the panel. They won't decide against you just because they don't like your lawyer but it won't help.

Of course, a solicitor or similar who has experience of admission appeals can be useful if you don't feel able to present your case yourself. If you go down this route make sure you check that they have worked on admission appeals in the past (and, ideally, have won some of them!).

If you want to present your case yourself you will get a lot of help from the experts on Mumsnet if you post details of your case.

charlestrenet Thu 09-Mar-17 00:36:01

Agree with the others. What you need to do is show how that one particular school is the most appropriate place for your child on the basis of your own individual child's educational needs and that those needs will not be met anywhere else. You are the person best placed to be able to argue that.

The panel will be sympathetic to the fact that you are nervous, that this is important to you, that you might not phrase things using key words because you don't know what they are and will work from the assumption that you know your child best.

What they won't appreciate - and what a solicitor will often do -is a minutae filled takedown of allocation policies or other irrelevancies.

So tbh I wouldn't bother. What will back you up better are statements from people involved in your child's education or welfare setting out how your chosen school is the one that will meet his needs. And you honestly don't need a solicitor to get those.

reallyanotherone Thu 09-Mar-17 00:39:11

I actually found the appeal process very intimidating. Just me, across a very formal table with 3 panel members, the council person, and a scribe.

I have a phd and am used to presenting arguments, but i think it was the formality and freaking length of the whole thing that bothered me. And the fact that the school obviously had done this before and had their arguments down pat, pages and pages of them.

I think a person with experience of appeals would have been very useful. Not necessarily a lawyer, but someone to read through all the schools stuff and walk me through what i needed to do and say, how much of it was a genuine argument, and what was filler fluff.

Business opportunity prh47bridge? ;)

I left the panel with the feeling that if the school had it so bad and couldn't pull their finger out their arse to manage class sizes and resources, i didn't want my child there anyway. Some of it was incredibly petty. One of them said the classroom was so crowded they couldn't fit the teacher in!

prh47bridge Thu 09-Mar-17 08:43:35

Business opportunity prh47bridge?

My wife keeps telling me I should offer my services for a fee! However, having spent years telling people to do it themselves if possible, it would feel a bit hypocritical to offer a service and I certainly don't want to stop offering free advice on Mumsnet. I am vaguely wondering whether it would be worth producing an online course on how to do it yourself.

Some of it was incredibly petty

If the admission authority is throwing the kitchen sink at a case it normally means the case to refuse admission is weak so they are adding anything they can dream up in order to strengthen it. I would hope that an appeal panel would see through this but, inevitably, some are taken in.

If it's oversubscribed and allocates places randomly then on what grounds are you appealing?

Are there other schools you'd consider? Get on the waiting lists for all of them.

Allthebestnamesareused Thu 09-Mar-17 14:12:09

I am a solicitor. I did the appeal for my son's admission myself (ticking the are you using a solicitor in the No box!)

It was the most nerve racking thing I had ever done as the outcome mattered personally to me. This is despite having been a solicitor for over 15 years at the time!

I approached the paperwork as a lawyer though, read and reread. Made sure my arguments were arguments that an appeals panel would consider (rather than as people say above - nitpicking etc). I was also incredibly lucky that I had advice from a friend's mum who sat on appeals panels.

We got out place. Phew!

Good luck - there is some really brilliant advice from various posters on here - prh47 knows her stuff.

prh47bridge Thu 09-Mar-17 14:42:27

If it's oversubscribed and allocates places randomly then on what grounds are you appealing?

Appeals are not just for mistakes. The OP can appeal on the basis that the disadvantage to her son from not getting a place at this school outweighs the problems the school will face from having to cope with an additional pupil.

Holymoly321 Thu 09-Mar-17 18:39:03

hi prh47bridge, We have decided to try and do this ourselves as we just cannot afford professional help. I tried to look for details of the PAN for the school today and others have mentioned I need to look into the past numbers of pupils (in relation to whether results went up or down due to extra pupils) and also square footage of space etc. Am starting to feel overwhelmed as I could not find this information via a google search. Are there specific sites where I can find this information and also would the school have to provide me with the information if I asked for it?. I feel like I am just reading reading reading lots of stuff and not able to actually get the individual information we need to put in our appeal.

PatriciaHolm Thu 09-Mar-17 18:49:23

The school must provide you with relevant information to aid your appeal - do ask them.

lougle Thu 09-Mar-17 18:57:17

I'm so glad you aren't using a solicitor. There really isn't a need to. Try to remember that the panelists are all volunteers who have been trained to consider each case fairly and impartially. If, at the end of the appeal, they genuinely believe that adding another child to the school will cause more harm (prejudice) to the effective education of the existing children at the school than it will to refuse your child a place, you will lose, no matter how eloquently you argue your case. If, however, having heard the arguments and seeing any evidence, they genuinely believe that the harm (prejudice) to your child by being denied a place at this school outweighs any difficulties it may cause the school in fitting him in, you will win, no matter how faltering and inelegant your argument is. Because that is the job of the panel.

Remember that you are arguing for the appeal school. Try really hard not to mention portacabins, rough areas, high crime, new schools, etc. - The official stance is that all schools deemed operational are suitable to educate all children and a panel cannot be seen to agree that a school is unsuitable for a child, so don't try to convince them. Instead, focus on what your school of choice does do, does have, does provide, does offer, etc. - positive, positive, positive.

You can ask questions in writing and the school should provide the answers. If they can't, the LA must. Send a polite email.

lougle Thu 09-Mar-17 19:03:54

"a panel cannot be seen to agree that a school is unsuitable for a child"

I should be more careful - I mean as an establishment. There may be certain social reasons why it is blatantly unsuitable, such as a child suffering a sustained bullying campaign with a school move, then it happens that both primary schools feed into the same secondary school. Or a social worker parent who works in child protection work having clients at the allocated school, which may put the child at risk. Or a child placed through kinship care (no looked after child priority) is allocated to a school where a relative's child attends and can't be identified for their own safety.

But in general, all schools are deemed 'suitable', even ones that are in special measures.

shouldwestayorshouldwego Thu 09-Mar-17 19:07:37

In addition to the great advice here it is worth looking at elevenplusexams.co.uk. Look on their appeals forum. Although predominantly aimed at selective appeals there are some useful checklists for oversubscription.

PAN might still be available on the LEA website. You will get the school's case a few weeks before or if you can find anyone who has appealed before they may still have the paperwork and some advice. Your head might know someone or ask around those with older siblings.

Also look through the clubs offered at the schools you want and what they will offer. Focus mainly on why it is a good fit for your ds.

Zoflorabore Thu 09-Mar-17 19:13:21

I went through the hell of two failed appeals for the same school and we had the option of possibly using a solicitor for the second one, i however found prh47bridge smile

He is amazing and very discreet, We did not win our case due to "petty" reasons too I believe despite lots of evidence and even camhs came with us to support ds, we were told as he is tall it may cause a problem!
The headteacher blatantly lied about funding for new buildings etc and ultimately a solicitor wouldn't have done better than my amazing brother, we had a brilliant case but it wasn't to be.

You need to live and breathe this appeal and believe in your case, get as much evidence to support you, remember not to bad mouth the other schools and above all, remain calm and do not let them rush you like I was rushed.
Very best of luck, fwiw, my ds is now in year 9 in a school that has turned itself around massively and is doing extremely well and would not move to appeal school now he tells me smile

SavoyCabbage Thu 09-Mar-17 19:13:59

I got loads of bumpf from admissions that was from the school about fire escapes, square footage, numbers of Teaching Assistants etc.

Zoflorabore Thu 09-Mar-17 19:20:20

Holymoly- we asked the school for numbers for each year and they were all over PAN, some quite a lot over.

A good question to ask is " have there been any accidents say in the corridors due to the overcrowding you are alleging?" And the answer is very likely to be no.
It's a common statement that schools make.
Please ask the for any information that is not covered in the case that you will receive from them.

prh47bridge Thu 09-Mar-17 20:55:40

Are there specific sites where I can find this information and also would the school have to provide me with the information if I asked for it

The admission authority (the LA if it is a community school or VC school, the school itself if it is an academy, free school or VA school) must answer any reasonable question you ask to help prepare for your appeal.

prh47bridge Thu 09-Mar-17 20:57:29

Zoflorabore - Thanks for the reference! Glad I was able to help.

prh47bridge Thu 09-Mar-17 20:58:23

P.S. OP - I am also glad you have decided to do it yourself. Good luck and feel free to ask if you need any help/advice.

Holymoly321 Thu 09-Mar-17 20:59:43

Phew, lots to think about! I am so not legally minded but I guess I'm going to need to just get my head together and try and make this work. Thanks guys. Keep the great advice coming!

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