Wow Paul - a lot of questions! I've noticed that Etienne doesn't usually come out until the "witching hour"
, so let me have a first stab at helping you out.
Our plan in the appeal hearing is to outline our sons academic qualities first and foremost
Absolutely right. The more you have, the better. Do you have a report or letter from the Head to submit? From the class teacher or subject teachers? If they are prepared to write something, ask them to draft it, and be prepared to ask them to change any elements that seem to create doubt (damning with faint praise, for example!). The stronger the wording, the better. "very high potential", rather than just "potential" for example.
11+ Results were VR 134 NVR 119 M 118.
How many marks is he away from the pass mark? (Forgive me - we're Bucks, you're Essex and I have a short memory!)
We would then try to demonstrate that he has been prepared for Grammar school environment all his schooling life, and that he would be a credit to the school, should he be given the opportunity to attend.
I'm dubious about the first - the panel may just see pushy parents, and it is very much a matter of your personal opinion about him being a credit to the school. Has he done anything at his prep school to demonstrate that he is a strong member of the school community? That would make your case more effectively than just your opinion as parents.
We would mention briefly, but underplay the fact that at the age of around 6, as parents we split up, although at no point would we suggest this has affected his marks. Instead we would demonstrate how well as a family unit we all get on, and spend time a lot of time together as a family, and that he has a very big support unit.
I don't see this as relevant - if it has not had any effect on his academic performance, why mention it? 99% of GS parents will claim a supportive home environment, so it does not mark you out from the herd.
Although we have no extenuating circumstances to offer with regards to why he failed so narrowly, we would explain that he was incredibly nervous about the exam due to the pressure placed by the school (Is this wise to say???).
Nerves are commonly cited by parents, and don't cut much ice with a panel, and NO, don't mention the pressure from the school. The panel are looking for a child who can cope with the demands and pressures of a GS!
We would explain that it would mean the world to him to get to Gravesend Grammar (which it absolutely would)
Of course it would, but this argument applies to many thousands of children in Essex and all around the country.
My questions really is, as an appeal panel, what are you wanting to hear? What things tick boxes?
Academic evidence - time for that expensive prep school to earn their keep and write the right letters and give you the support you are asking for! (No cynicism intended - my sons are at a prep school as well.)
Does the quality of the parents public speaking qualities make a difference, or will the appeal panels questions give the panel the information they need to make a decision? What kind of questions will the panel ask? "So Mr R, What makes your Johnny so special that we should give him a place at the school'? I'm told the panel will test you patience or tolerance with the type questions at times, is this true?
I don't believe that any of this is true of panels in general. There may be the odd rogue panel, but they are very rare. Panels do their best to put you at your ease. Your public speaking ability is completely irrelevant - a slick presentation will do you no favours. The questions are likely to be either fillers - "What does he do in his spare time? What books does he read?" - or more searching questions posed by the panel to try to get to know your child - "Does he make friends easily? How does he cope with failure? Does he do his homework readily?" None of the questions are designed to trip you up or make you uncomfortable, but to get a real 3D picture of your son and his suitability for GS.
As parents we're terrified of letting him down with a bad 'speech', and not being able to convey his qualities and abilities, so any tips or experiences you have had as a member of a panel would be gratefully recieved.
On this last point I am speaking from personal experience of being on your side of the fence. I went to appeal for my son last year. I discovered this Forum too late to be able to use the wealth of advice on it. I muddied the waters with emotion, I tried to cover too much ground and my basic research - speaking to the teachers, really understanding my child's abilities and getting them to back up the Head's comments on paper was dismal. My only excuse is that it was perilously close to the end of term, and after the initial shock had subsided, it was too late to get the information I needed.
I hope I haven't utterly destroyed your plans, and that I have also given you some pointers for where to go next. Academic evidence, and "less is more" would be the summary. I also hope I've put you at ease on the concept of the Appeal hearing itself.
Whatever the outcome, you will not have let your son down. You will have done everything you can for him, and he will appreciate that. I know - I came out on the wrong side, and my son just said "Mummy - you tried your best". On the support and information I had at the time, he was right. You have this Forum to turn to, so your best will be better than mine was by a long way!