Hi suzy, and welcome!
Etienne is not around at the moment, so I'll try to answer your questions instead.
Some of your questions are answered in this "Sticky" on Bucks: viewtopic.php?f=12&t=31030&p=376217&hilit=first+draft#p376217
We've received the appeal dates and understand that the first step is that we are appealing against the initial decision, to prove that it was not conducted in a fair and consistent manner. Only if we are successful here, do we move onto to the next stage, where academic circumstances would be investigated in more detail - is this correct?
Not quite. From what we've heard from those who've already been to appeal, both parts of the case ("fair, consistent & objective", and selection) will be heard automatically. It seems that it's at the end of both of those, when the panel take their decisions, that they decide on FCO. If they find that the review process was not FCO, they move on to the case for selection and decide on that.
So, from reading posts on the forum, I understand that the hearing will be between us and the panel, whereby we should be asking for them to effectively justify the basis on which they made their decision - right?
This is a completely different panel. The Review Panels were made up of serving Head teachers. The Independent Appeal Panel is made up of volunteers from the community, some of whom (non-lay members) have experience of education. Each panel will be made up of both lay and non-lay members.
It is the Presenting Officer who is representing the admission authority, and thus the Review Panel. They must justify the case for FCO, and you and members of the IAP can challengeand question them on it.
We have asked for case notes and have had back some very brief notes to say how a decision was made - but there is very little detail! I'm confused as to how we are supposed to be questioning them, when surely its really about them giving us a full overview as to how our daughters case was concluded?
That is certainly a question that you should put to the Presenting Officer.
I sense then that the first stage is really about preparing ourselves with a series of questions to make them satisfy us of a fair and consistent process?
That sounds fine, and it really comes down to the question of "where is the evidence"?
There is so much confusing text within the letters we received - that talk of submitting any evidence that we wish to be taken into consideration - 'x' number of working days before the appeal. What evidence is this?
They told us over the phone that this first step is only about challenging the initial decision. Should we supply any evidence or not? What do they mean by it?
This was discussed here: viewtopic.php?f=12&t=31030&p=375472&hilit=iap+must+first+consider#p375472
They told me that if we get past the first stage then at this point further academic evidence would be sought....
No - if you have any additional academic evidence, you should submit it as soon as you possibly can. You can take small amounts of evidence, plus school books with you on the day. They definitely won't be proactive in seeking the evidence for you!
Ultimately we don't think that from the case notes received, that they can have possibly considered how the problems of the first test affected our daughter.....and we don't know how this was considered overall. Should we focus on questioning them around this aspect primarily? I understand more now from reading some of the posts but I'm pretty worried about going in there unprepared! its very upsetting when you have no idea how much time and effort they have spent on your case.....and indeed not knowing if they act fairly and spend adequate time investigating your particular case!
You can point this out at the hearing, although the PO will not be able to tell you how long was spent on your case.
I can reassure you that IAP members are invariably kind and welcoming towards parents, and they do understand how stressful an appeal is.