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Secondary school appeals help

(103 Posts)
Cocosunshine Sat 02-Mar-19 04:27:57

Hi all

We are in the horrible position of having to appeal for our son's secondary school place. I would love some advice.

Situation is:

- My son was diagnosed with leukaemia aged 7
- Treatment ended in Sept 2018 (it lasts 3.5 years)
- He won't be considered "cured" for 5 years
- He has ongoing appointments and close monitoring
- There are long and late term psychological and physical impacts of treatment

Our application was to our closest school, but the catchment is tiny so we are not close enough (1 Mike vs 0.3 miles). It has medical/social needs as a criterion, so we applied under that. Application basis was:

1. Closest school to our house. Enables us to manage appointments, maintain attendance, deal with issues (esp if he relapses). Easiest journey, important as fatigue is a long term side effect of leukaemia treatment. Important socially as he feels safe there, will have friends nearby

2. Social: as our local school, he has friends there. Important as he has emotional, self esteem and friendship issues following treatment

3. The school has a "unique ethos" (their words) of pastoral care and support, which he needs after the trauma he has been through.

This was supported by letters from:
- Oncologist at GOSH
- Oncologist at our local hospital
- Social worker at CLIC Sargent
- Family support officer at local children's hospice
- Letter from current head teacher

So:
Does this sound like a decent case or are we kidding ourselves?
How do we approach appeal - do we need to get new, additional evidence?
Can we find out in advance why our arguments weren't accepted under the med/social criterion?
What is the best strategy to formulate a strong case - pick one thing, argue them all? What is most likely to sway them?

Son is distraught and I am devastated. After everything he has been through, I want him to be safe and happy in his secondary school. Feels like a massive kick in the teeth :-(

Thanks for any help you can give us.

OP’s posts: |
Cocosunshine Sat 02-Mar-19 04:43:53

Also, our council's "schools adviser" told me (twice) and my husband on another occasion that we would get a place on these grounds, and we accepted that advice and made decisions on the basis of it. Now regretting that!

OP’s posts: |
MrsJamin Sat 02-Mar-19 04:52:42

There are some experts at MN for appeals (Paging @prh47bridge @admission & @panelmember)
It sounds to me like to have a good case, better than many who try to appeal and have no reason why their particular child should go to a particular school. Good luck!

maxybrown Sat 02-Mar-19 06:24:30

I too am going to be appealing for my son with autism.

We already have one failed primary school place and he has come such a long way since we moved - he even has friends!

It has such a massive impact on all of our lives when he is not ok. I'm mentally and emotionally drained, zapped all worn out.

Any advice gratefully received here too.

Sorry I can't help Coco, I'm flailing around in the dark too

TranquilityofSolitude Sat 02-Mar-19 07:22:07

Im sorry that you are in the horrible situation. I'm sure the experts will be able to advise, but to begin, what does your letter/email say? You should be able to see why your son was not admitted. It sounds to me as if they might not have looked at him in the medical needs category and therefore disregarded your letters.

If this is the case you may be able to get them to rectify the situation without an appeal. However, if you do appeal I'd use all that you have written. It sounds like a good case to me. I won an appeal for my daughter with a far less compelling case.

HotpotLawyer Sat 02-Mar-19 07:43:52

Sorry you are in this position, OP.

1. Check that your application was considered under the correct category: medical and social need.
2. Make sure you are on the waiting list
3. Prepare your appeal. :
You have a great list of testimonies. Make sure their letters name the school and say “I believe that Xxxx school is the best / only suitable school for MiniCoco to attend because...” and not “his parents believe this is the best school..”, “his parents say...”.
Make the case for all the reasons why their school is suitable, and argue the ill effects of a further away, less well supported school pastorally. This school will give him independence, cannot manage the journey to allocated school etc.
Make the appeal yourself, even if you are stumbling and tearful (as many appealingbparents are) you will make a better impression on the panel than a hired professional such as a lawyer specialising in school appeals.

Wishing you lots of luck with this.

Cocosunshine Sat 02-Mar-19 09:19:30

Thank you all so much for the help so far.

@MrsJamin thanks for calling in the experts :-)

@maxybrown - good luck with your appeal and sorry you are in this position too :-(

@TranquilityofSolitude - the message on the eadmissions website doesn't say anything about medical/social needs. It's very generic and just says: "there were more applications than places available, and other applicants had a higher priority than your child under the school’s published admission criteria".

If they had considered him under the medical/social criterion, would their message definitely have made reference to it? It feels like a very slim sliver of hope that they didn't consider the application properly.

I'm really glad you won your daughter's appeal :-)

@HotSpotLawyer - thank you for this excellent advice. Do you think an appeal is worthwhile - do you think we have any chance? This is all so painful to talk about and air with strangers, and so hurtful when they appear not to care, I don't want to do it if it's completely hopeless. Feeling pretty fragile myself about everything that happened and the fear for the future :-(

Also, do you think we'd have been specifically told that we didn't meet the med/soc criteria, or would we have got the generic email even if they had assessed the application on that criterion?

Thanks everyone for the help and support. Really keen to get as much advice as possible, so please keep it coming. Thanks everyone.

OP’s posts: |
Hollowvictory Sat 02-Mar-19 09:25:59

For medical I think you may need a statement or echp that names the particular school. It should tell you in the admissions booklet which you can read online.
Good luck with your appeal and I hope your son continues to recover, I'm sure you don't need this stress 💐

mykidsmyworld Sat 02-Mar-19 09:29:03

Cocosunshine sorry you are in that position, I think you have good grounds to win appeal. Hopefully prh47bridge and admission will soon respond on how to appeal. They helped me win appeal back in 2016.
Good luck

Witchend Sat 02-Mar-19 09:47:44

Are you in Surrey? I know someone from there who was told a few years ago that they wouldn't be placed in medical because treatment had finished. They seem to have a very small band as to what is considered medical. Were you told you would be in medical criteria?

prh47bridge Sat 02-Mar-19 10:00:28

For medical I think you may need a statement or echp that names the particular school

No, you don't. If you have an EHCP the normal admissions process does not apply. You are admitted automatically. This category (if it exists) is for children with needs that don't qualify for an EHCP.

Cocosunshine - Your son clearly has medical needs. Assuming the application was processed correctly, the problem was that you didn't convince them that his medical needs meant that he must go to this particular school. If the supporting letters did not name this school and say that, in the writer's opinion, your child needs to go to this school that could be the problem.

The good news is that it is a little easier at appeal. Yes, it is always worth appealing. You don't lose anything by appealing and you might get a place. In your situation there are two arguments you can put forward and I would go for both of them. Firstly, you can argue that it was unreasonable of them not to place your son in the medical category. Secondly, you can argue that the disadvantage to your son from not attending outweighs any problems the school will face from having to cope with an additional pupil. The points you make support both of those cases. You may be able to strengthen your case further if you can find things this school offers (subjects or extra-curricular activities) that are not available at the allocated school and which are particularly relevant to your son.

Before the hearing you will receive the case to refuse admission. That should tell you in detail why your son didn't get into the medical category. But there is nothing to stop you asking now. They must answer any questions you ask to help you prepare your appeal.

PotteryLady Sat 02-Mar-19 10:03:01

How far away is the school offered? Is anyone from his school going there?

Fishwifecalling Sat 02-Mar-19 10:13:48

I would check that it wasn't just overlooked in the social and medical category.
If it wasn't, then appeal. We won in a similar situation (but not so clear cut).

I would say that you have an excellent chance. You have a lot of supporting evidence. Keep emotion out of it. I can't remember exactly how we worded it but "to the detriment" featured highly. We also quoted facts and figures where they had gone over pan in previous years.

The experts will be along soon.

Cocosunshine Sat 02-Mar-19 10:32:34

@Witchend - no, we're in London. I explained the situation to the council admissions adviser and she said we would meet the criteria (on 3 separate occasions!) but I suppose they hadn't seen all the information. The thing is, he has finished chemo, but he's not considered cured for 5 years, and we have to think about the "what ifs", as horrible as that is, plus there are side effects from treatment and ongoing medical stuff.

@prh47bridge - thank you so much for your advice. In my sleepless night last night I saw lots of your posts helping people with these issues and I really hoped you would reply - thank you for everything you've done to help parents in this horrible situation!

Three of the four expert letters named the school, and they said that they felt he should be admitted, giving reasons - but maybe the wording wasn't clear and strong enough. Looking back, maybe I should have been more proscriptive but I felt uncomfortable dictating what they should write.

Thanks for the advice to look into the extra curricular provision at the schools, we will do this.

I'd really like to know why we were refused to help us address the weak areas ahead of the appeal, so we will ask the council and school about this.

@PotteryLady - The school offered is 1.5 miles away, versus the school we want at 0.9 miles - so it's not a massive difference, but it's one bus ride and a two minute walk versus a tube and 15 minute walk, and a school in our local area versus one that is outside our local community. Very few children from his school will go there, and we don't know anyone already there, unlike our chosen school. But this is London, so schools are inevitably close together with tiny catchments (or huge for the unpopular schools)

OP’s posts: |
Lougle Sat 02-Mar-19 11:05:20

"*there were more applications than places available, and other applicants had a higher priority than your child under the school’s published admission criteria*".

Generally, Med/social criteria is criteria 2/3, after Looked After Children, and Children with EHCPs. The fact that you have had that statement in your refusal letter indicates to me that you were not considered under the med/social criteria, because whatever the intake is, they would have to have that many children who fulfilled the greater priority categories or med/social category with a stronger case, which is unlikely. Which order were the categories?

Did you keep copies of the supporting letters? That would be helpful. Generally, these sorts of letters range from "Cocosunshine feels her DS would benefit from a place at X school, so I am writing to ask that you place him there" <very weak> to "In my professional opinion, X school is the only school that can meet the needs of Master Sunshine due to X,y,z reasons, and his health would be severely impacted if he was refused a place at X school." <A LA/ panel would be a bit bonkers to go against it>.

The 0.9 miles Vs 1.5 miles thing is relevant for fatigue, and it's helpful if you can produce some back up from a medical professional that fatigue is an ongoing issue for your DS rather than a general statement that it is known to be an issue post treatment generally. I wouldn't press the issue in terms of 'in an emergency', though, because right now your DS is in remission (thankfully) and you can't hold potential emergency travel arrangements for 5 years 'just in case'. Also, if there was a true emergency, you'd get a taxi/ambulance and wouldn't worry about bus/walk Vs tube/walk.

Do look at what the school has to offer your DS. Your appeal can be a mixture of "1. You made a mistake. 2. Even if you didn't make a mistake, I think you should take my DS on med/social grounds. 3. Even if you don't agree, you should give him a place because the school would be so good for him that it would do him greater harm to be refused a place than it would for the school to have to take him."

prh47bridge Sat 02-Mar-19 11:19:48

It would be interesting to know exactly what the letters said. As Lougle says, the wording is important. If you don't want to post the wording publicly, feel free to PM me. If the wording in the letters is strong enough you can go really heavy on the "unreasonable refusal to place him in the medical category" argument.

Cocosunshine Sat 02-Mar-19 11:34:12

Thank you @Lougle - I have a tiny glimmer of hope that perhaps we have a chance, but trying not to get too optimistic!

The concern about relapse isn't really emergencies, more that, if the very worst did happen, he would still go to school for periods of time, as treatment is very lengthy, but to do so school needs to be very close to home. His current school is close by, and that meant we could go before/after blood tests and hospital appointments, cope with his siblings' school runs, take a risk on him going as it was easy to bring him home if he felt ill, we had supportive friends in walking distance etc. It meant that his attendance was amazingly good considering, after the initial intensive treatment.

Good point about fatigue - this is mentioned as specific to him in the GOSH letter, but maybe not clearly enough.

Thanks for structuring our appeal - that makes really good sense!

@Lougle and @prh47bridge - it's incredibly kind of you both to offer to look at the letters. I will PM them to you both. Having read your advice, I think they are on the weak side - wish I had asked you for help first. Feel embarrassed to share my letter as it's very long and that was probably a very silly, school boy error - it's hard when the issue is so emotional and you care so much :-(

OP’s posts: |
Lougle Sat 02-Mar-19 11:59:47

It's natural to want to include everything you can think of when you write to the LA. But now is the time to be focused and hone in on the precise issues that will win you that place smile

Cocosunshine Sat 02-Mar-19 12:47:01

@Hollowvictory, @mykidsmyworld and @Fishwifecalling - thank you all very much for the advice, encouragement and support. It has really helped a lot.

@HotpotLawyer - I got your handle wrong above - trying again: - thank you for this excellent advice. Do you think an appeal is worthwhile - do you think we have any chance? This is all so painful to talk about and air with strangers, and so hurtful when they appear not to care, I don't want to do it if it's completely hopeless. Feeling pretty fragile myself about everything that happened and the fear for the future :-(

Also, do you think we'd have been specifically told that we didn't meet the med/soc criteria, or would we have got the generic email even if they had assessed the application on that criterion?

Thank you for all the help and support.

OP’s posts: |
HotpotLawyer Sat 02-Mar-19 20:34:20

Coco: I really do think it is worth appealing. You have nothing to lose, and it sounds as if you have a strong case.

Prh47bridge has a very skilled understanding as to how to target your case in terms of addressing the way a panel can consider an appeal, so if he is offering to help you already have a leg up. I am not a lawyer and don’t have specialist knowledge in the admissions process, but I did successfully apply for a place (primary and secondary) under Social and Medical need.

I know what you mean about not wanting to seem cheeky in making requests of the medical team. But in my experience, having known Dc’s consultant from before his birth to now when he is 18, they come to feel very protective, interested and loyal to their young patients and want to see them succeed.

I drafted up the letters and sent them as word attachments in an e mail “to save them the trouble “ and explained the need for the opinion to be their own. As it happened our consultant made the letter far more assertive and emphatic than I did grin

You deserve success on this one!

Cocosunshine Sun 03-Mar-19 22:45:44

@HopotLawyer, thank you very much for the support and encouragement, it has given me the boost I needed to carry on and at least give it a go.

I am very happy to day that Prh47bridge is very kindly helping us, as is Lougle, and I feel much better about everything with their support.

I am really pleased that you were successful in your school appeals, and I hope your son is doing well now.

I know you're right that the medical team are happy to help, it's just knowing how busy they are and that they have lives to save day after day, you feel bad taking up their time. But on that note I guess drafting up the letters might actually help!

Thank you very much, and I will let you know how it goes!

OP’s posts: |
PanelChair Mon 04-Mar-19 20:46:22

I'm arriving here late, so can't do more than second what Lougle and prh47bridge have said. You need to probe why your application was not (it seems) considered under the medical/social category - you can argue at appeal that that was unreasonable - and then back that up with strong, clear evidence from health care professionals.

Cocosunshine Tue 05-Mar-19 10:17:33

@PanelChair - thank you very much for your reply.

I've spoken to the council and it seems they did process it as a med/social needs application and pass all the information over to the school. I am trying to check with the school that they reviewed it all, but it looks like there wasn't an administrative error. Sigh.

OP’s posts: |
PanelChair Tue 05-Mar-19 10:33:31

Hmm. In my borough, medical/social applications are referred to a separate panel with representatives of children’s services and others, who make a judgement on whether the child’s needs justify a place at the school being applied for. I’m not convinced that the school itself would be qualified to make that judgement. Can you find out more about who made the decision here?

prh47bridge Tue 05-Mar-19 10:40:09

Agree that you need to know who made the decision. I've seen a few cases where an unqualified panel thought they knew better than medical professionals.

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