Most people are scared stiff at the idea of making a school admission appeal. And it's easy to see why. For a start, there's a lot hanging on it... their child's future. The whole situation is often accompanied by a feeling of guilt, "It's my fault, I should have realised... " and a general sense of having let your child down.
So what does happen on the day? Many expect to be interrogated and put on the spot. However, panel members almost always go out of their way to make everybody present as comfortable as they can be. Appeal hearings are overwhelmingly polite and straightforward. The school or local authority explain that they are full and can't take any more pupils and then the parents say that this is the only school that will do. It is quite rare for there to be an argument over facts, for example, where someone lives.
An appeal is heard by a panel of usually three [sometimes five] panel members, who must be independent of the local authority or school. They should be aware of the names of the people appealing and are under an obligation to report any connection with an appellant. If a panel member only realises a connection when they recognize an appellant by sight, the Chair must asks all parties if they wish to go ahead or to have their appeal postponed until that family can be heard by a fresh panel on another day.
Every panel must have at least one lay member [someone without direct experience of schools management] and at least one member with experience in education or who is familiar with educational conditions in the area. One of the members of the Panel will act as Chair. It is their responsibility to establish an atmosphere that is not too formal, where parents are put at their ease whilst keeping the meeting purposeful. The Chair will introduce everybody and make sure the admission authority and the parents are treated fairly and equally.
The admission authority will normally have one person presenting their case. Occasionally, there may be a representative of the school present to answer questions that arise.
The order in which things happen is not fixed [note appeals into KS1 - infants classes- do differ] but usually follows this pattern:
1. the admission authority is asked to explain why the child has not been offered a place;
2. questions are asked by the Panel and by parents;
3. parents are asked to give their case;
4. questions for the parents by Panel and admission authority;
5. summaries by admission authority and parents;
6. appeal is brought to a close.
The Panel make their decision in private and both sides are informed by letter. The Panel's task is to decide whether the admission authority has acted properly and followed its own arrangements and if it has demonstrated that admitting another child would be prejudicial, then [excepting KS1] to balance the strength of the admission authority's argument against the strength of the parents'.