In a court of law, the jury is directed by the judge, and any deviation from relevant fact, or possible misinterpretation of evidence, is addressed as it should be. This does not seem to be the case with the appeal panel set-up, and even decisions are doled out without proper explanation, and without proper recourse for further appeal.
Our LEA panels are run & clerked by the County Council Democratic Services team (separated by a thick 'glass wall' from the Admissions team). They are used to providing legal advice & opinions to the Councillors.
If we as a panel are swinging towards a decision on an appeal that looks a bit dodgy, be it in favour of the parents or the LEA, our clerks let us know - they would point out the rules that we MUST adhere to. On the one occasion that we tried to insist, the head of the clerks appeared and very firmly told us that what we intended to do would be very likely to end up with the Ombudsman or at High Court (I think we were going in favour of the parents, but had we been going the other way the same would have happened) and re-pointed out the sections of the Appeals Code of Practice and Schools Admissions Code of Practice.
In the past, where the code was unclear, we have even had the county solicitor come to clarify the code.
Appeals are meant to be as informal as possible so anyone can come & present their case without being unduly stressed by formality and have it taken as seriously as if a pile of solicitors burst in. We are given full training every two years and refresher training every year.
We've always been unpaid volunteers since long before cost cuts applied. If we were paid, then we could be accused of 'whoever pays the fiddler calls the tunes'. Magistrates are also unpaid volunteers, guided by a Clerk who is a trained solicitor.
There are times when as a panel member I desperately wanted to allow an appeal, but couldn't do so as prejudice to the school outweighed that to the parents. Sometimes it's difficult to put down why we couldn't allow an appeal when in fact it was because someone elses appeal was an even stronger case.
We do our best, and most of us do care (otherwise why do it?). Many of us have been on the other side of the table appealing in the past both successfully and unsuccessfully.
If you think it unfair, please help other parents by volunteering to be an appeal panel member yourself
. Many companies will allow paid leave in the same way that they do for TA, councillors, magistrates and the like.