Hurrah! Appeals are over for another year (well, apart from the odd one-off appeal that may happen).
We spent two days from 8:45 to 6:30 hearing about 30 appeals. They were scheduled 20 mins apart, but we don’t stick to that – parents are allowed as long as they need, and whilst we occasionally get parents who only need 10 mins, most use at least 20 mins, and a few more. And we also spend a few minutes before reminding us of the notes and discussing the case afterwards. Hence after our first two appeals on the 1st morning we were already ½ hour late. So if you find yourself sitting in a waiting room, getting more nervous, please be aware that the panel are wanting to give the parents a fair hearing!
We don’t often get children coming with the parents. “But it’s all about the child” – well, so it may be, but we often ask very personal questions that it would be so embarrassing for the child to hear the answers to.
“I’ve sent in a big appeals pack, and don’t think the panel had read it”. We had our documents delivered last Wednesday evening, with supplementary packs arriving on Friday and Saturday – partly because many parents were late submitting them. I then spent 2 evenings reading through them, and also taking them with me to Ballet lessons, music lessons – anywhere that I can get time to read them without distraction (easier said than done with 2 primary school daughters) and without anyone else seeing them. I can assure you that every pack got read.
There are, however, some items I tend to skim over because the appeal is on why your child did not do well on the day of the exam, not on how good a sportsman he is. So my ‘skim’ list includes letters from scout/guide leaders, sports coaches, music teachers, and certificates from school for trying hard. Musical ability equate with academic ability, but I also know musicians who are pretty average.
I also skim through SATS practice papers and page after page of school work - the guidelines state that we must not try to make our own academic assessment of the child – after all, it would be easy to assume that scruffy writing means less able – but that’s not always the case. If the school have submitted a letter or filled in a form saying what the expected KS2 SATS results are, then that is useful.
Letters from the head or class teacher are good for us – but many are not allowed to send an individual letter of support – just factual information – so don’t get angry if they will not write one for you. I’ve noticed that in some cases I know that the head dislikes grammars, so either won’t write on principle or delegates out to the form teachers; this year we had 2 appeals from one school where the children were in different classes – one teacher sent useful information to us, the other sent nothing.
Medical evidence is good, but breaking his arm in Rugby 9 months before the exam is probably not going to swing it for you, even if it still twinges.
Emotional factors can also be quite relevant – gravely ill grandparent, or parents going through a messy divorce, hamster dying the night before the exam (but please don’t kill a hamster just in case your child needs to appeal). We are interested in troubled relationships not so we can put blame on a party, but so we can work out how your child was affected on the day.
Occasionally we will ask if there were any ‘home problems’ and you’d be surprised how many parents don’t think that they are relevant to us and haven’t mentioned it.
We know that some parents are more eloquent than others, some have legal training, others have been coached in how to appeal, some are in tears. We take you how you come and are not interested in what you look like, how you dress, what accent you have, which schools you (or great-uncle Jack) went to.
Anyway, after we’d finished hearing the appeals the hardest part of the job starts. Deciding firstly which appeals are good enough to allow, then balancing the needs of the children already on the roll against those appealing. For instance, we had a full tour of the school to look at capacity, and we are aware that it would be impossible to fit more than 32 desks in many of the classrooms – it would be a fire risk, for a start. So if we’ve decided that 10 out of 30 appeals are good enough to be allowed, and then that it would be dangerous to allow more that 8, we’ve got to sift out some of the ‘Yes’ children. So then we get tough and re-read all our notes (and those of our clerk). It’s so difficult for us – we are aware that its children’s lives we’re working with. Sometimes after the second sift we find that we’ve only got one or two who we feel really happy with allowing, so even though its below the total capacity of the school, that’s it!
I’m from a small town, and have active children of primary school age. It is inevitable that I know some of the parents appealing. Some I don’t recognise until the day, and some even come from my daughters school. I’m scrupulously fair – I always declare that I know them both as soon as I get the docs, in private when we start to look at the notes before they come in, and once the parents come. I have never given any preference to them – in fact last year one person was a friend, and we turned that appeal down (I could have told her that that was the likely outcome as soon as I looked at the paperwork, but didn’t).
Being on an appeals panel is in some ways a horrible job. For a start, whilst we could claim out of pocket expenses, loss of earnings, etc, I know that this would come out of the schools budget, and would prefer it to go on resources. Then we get to see parents whose appeals we turned down – once I had a long chat with one at the tip, others at folk festivals – and what can you say to them?
My own daughters won’t be going to this school (there’s a slight matter of gender to consider), but when eldest gets to Y6, I will retire from the panel, as I would be too closely involved if they apply for the ‘sister’ school.