11 plus Grammar School Appeals – Points to Consider
In recent years, at School Appeals Services we have had an increasing number of parents contact us to tell us that their children have failed the relevant 11 plus exam in their area and, in their view, there were mitigating circumstances for this result. In such a situation, it may well be worth appealing the decision.
If you are in this situation, the following may assist you :-
a) Timing of submission of your information
Admission authorities are likely to ask you to submit your appeal and evidence within 14 days of receipt of information that you have been unsuccessful in reaching the required mark.
The legislation and Code of Practice on Admission Appeals does require you to give notice that you will are appealing the decision within 14 days but does not require you to submit your evidence in accordance with this timescale. Many parents rush the preparation of their submission and some even prejudice their case by some ill judged comments in the submission. My advice would be to contact the admission authority and let them know you are unable to provide them with your grounds of appeal within the 14 days but will do so in advance of the hearing. Personally, I would never table a large amount of information on the day of the hearing as Panel members like to read the material and assimilate the information in advance. So provide information around two to three weeks prior to your hearing date.
b) What form should my Grounds of Appeal take?
There are no hard and fast rules on format although I would always type it in a clear and relatively large font (Appeal Panel members can be relatively elderly folk who may have difficulty reading small print).
In terms of the submissions that I draft for parents, I follow a subject heading type format with a “background” section followed by main headings such as “Evidence of Academic Ability” and “Mitigating Circumstances”. I will break my individual points down into sub headings under these two points.
If the appeal is for a particular grammar school as opposed to a general selection appeal, I would also include reasons as to why that specific school can best serve the needs of your child.
In terms of length, 11 plus appeals are likely to be shorter in nature than other admission appeals and it is unlikely that you will need to submit more than four pages of A4 plus supporting evidence.
c) Evidence to submit
As outlined above you will need to demonstrate three things to the Appeal Panel
- evidence that your child has the academic ability to do well at a grammar school
- evidence that your child had extenuating or mitigating circumstances which meant that they were unable to perform to their ability on the day(s) of the exams
- If you are appealing for an individual grammar school, why that particular school best meets the needs of your child.
Evidence can be wide ranging but must be compelling. For example if you say that your child is very bright and has always been in the top 2% of their primary year group, that is evidence but only based on your opinion. If you have a letter from your primary head teacher that sates exactly that, then you are promoting the same point but you now have very compelling evidence.
You should apply this “test” to any claim or statement you make either in your submission or at the appeal hearing
Written evidence should be included with your grounds of appeal but if you have to take it along on the day, you should be able to present it to the Panel. I suggest that you take along enough copies for each of the Panel (usually 3), plus a copy each for the clerk and LEA / school. This will get you some “brownie” points with the Clerk who won’t have to rush around to do the photocopying.
Avoid photographs of your child and letters to the Panel from them also. Whist it can appear to be a good idea it makes the Panel members feel uncomfortable.
d) The on the day presentation
Opinion is divided about the manner in which the on the day presentation is conducted amongst appeal experts.
It should really be about the evidence content and not the manner of the presentation but for grammar school appeals, as with all school appeals, my opinion is that you are selling your case to the Panel Members.
Whilst Panel members may not admit it public ally, they will be influenced by the preparation and delivery of a presentation. This is not simply my guess but is based upon many conversations with Appeal Panel members over the years.
Again, my personal opinion only, but I would prepare a presentation based upon your grounds of appeal to last around 10 to 15 minutes for a grammar school appeal. I would not read my submission or presentation but would use notes in order to be able to engage with the Panel through eye contact and body language. I am a great believer in building rapport before conducting any form of communication with another party and I train managers in private business and local government on effective communication with staff and customers. The same principles apply in terms of a parent’s communication with the Panel. So -
- rehearse but not script your presentation
- make eye contact with all Panel members during the presentation
- If you do breakdown emotionally during the presentation have a partner or representative take over. (My experience is that around 50% of parents “choke” during their presentation
- Anticipate some of the questions you might be asked (see below)
- be defensive or annoyed if you are delayed or are asked questions
- tell the Panel you have nothing to add to what is written
- read a pre prepared statement
- go alone (it is an emotional experience for anyone - male or female – presenting at an Appeal Hearing, so take someone with you).
Most importantly, be courteous and respectful. Try to come across as a very reasonable parent!
In addition to your partner / friend, you may wish to take a legal representative (I know a decent one!) – see question below.
e) Decision making
In an 11 plus appeal, the Panel will be looking simply at two tests
- Is the overall academic evidence sufficiently compelling to indicate the child may have achieved a pass mark under normal circumstances? (The more pieces of evidence that you can provide of high academic ability, the greater the likelihood of meeting this threshold test)
- Are there mitigating circumstances that explain why the pass or threshold mark was not reached? (The further away from he pass or threshold mark, the more compelling this evidence needs to be)
You should receive the decision letter after the appeal relatively quickly although this can vary from LEA to LEA. For example, I am aware that for Buckinghamshire, parents usually only have to wait a couple of working days but Essex can take a little longer.
The Chair of the Panel may well inform when you will be notified of the decision (it will not be at the hearing) but my advice is, if this does not occur, ask the Clerk as you are escorted out of the room at the conclusion of your appeal when decision letters will be issued.
f) Legal Representation or coaching?
I should declare an interest at this point but my honest and evidenced opinion is yes (in most cases). I do believe that pre appeal advice in terns of evidence collection and coaching can more than double your chances of success. How do I know this? Well my records over the last two years indicate that of those parents that I coached or represented who appealed for grammar school places achieved a 68% success rate. Not bad compared to the national average of 27%.
However, finding the right legal representation is key. I would never use a high street solicitor. You need someone who has lots of experience with admissions appeals. Decent representation is worth its weight in gold!
At the last count there were 164 grammar schools in England and we have advised parents on around 80% of those schools and have a database of information and knowledge not only in relation to general 11 plus appeals but also the individual schools themselves.