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Changes to how school appeals are held due to COVID-19


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Introduction

Due to the ongoing concerns around coronavirus and social distancing requirements, the government issued new legislation around how school appeals will now be conducted, called the School Admissions (England) (Coronavirus) (Appeals Arrangements) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, referred to in this guidance as the regulations.

These regulations have relaxed some of the previous requirements including that appeals had to be heard in person, to enable admission authorities to make arrangements for hearings to be held remotely.

The new regulations and Devon’s specific arrangements aim to ensure that:

  • parents continue to have the opportunity to challenge and review the decision to refuse admission as fully, transparently, consistently and as fairly as possible
  • panel members continue to be able to consider the evidence and information put forward by admission authorities and parents and to ask questions as a part of that consideration
  • admission authorities continue to be able to defend their decisions to refuse admission and to present evidence in support of their case

Changes to the new regulations:

  • disapply the requirement that appeals panels must be held in person and instead give flexibility for panel hearings to take place either by telephone, video conference or through a paper-based appeal where all parties can make representations in writing
  • relax the rules with regard to what happens if one of the 3 panel members withdraws (temporarily or permanently due to coronavirus) and makes it permissible for the panel to continue with and conclude the appeal as a panel of 2
  • amend the deadlines relating to appeals for the period of time that the new regulations are in force

The overriding principles governing all appeals are still procedural fairness and natural justice. Appeal panels must be transparent, accessible, independent and impartial, and operate according to principles of natural justice. The clerk will keep an accurate record of proceedings and advise the panel accordingly.

The information in this guide explains how your school admission appeal will now be conducted.

Video conferencing

Devon’s Independent School Appeals Panels will use Microsoft Teams to facilitate virtual meetings. Teams is the system recommended for hosting remote/virtual meetings. It has functionality for audio, video, and screen sharing and you do not need to be a member of the organisation (or have a Teams account) to join a Teams meeting. It is also secure for the purposes of holding admission appeals.

You will be sent a meeting request via email (without the need to download the app) and you will be able to use all the functions of Teams (video/chat) in the meeting.

Microsoft Teams allows all participants to hear and see each other, to fully engage and partake in the appeal and replicates as close to a face to face appeal as possible.

We’ve produced a guide to using Microsoft Teams that you may find helpful.

Telephone

If you’re unable to access video conferencing facilities, the clerk can dial you into a meeting as a voice call. This can be done at the appropriate time in the meeting by the clerk and can also be used if your home broadband cannot support video conferencing. A home phone or mobile can be used.

There is also provision for a conference call number and ID, which allows you to dial into the meeting, to be sent out as part of the meeting invite. This will be useful should your broadband fail during the appeal and you need to redial via phone to gain access to the appeal.

You can opt to use the telephone conference facility by advising the clerk in advance of your appeal. There is no disadvantage to those parents who telephone into their appeal rather than using video conferencing facilities; all appeals will be considered on their own merits.

Paper case

In the instance that you are unable to take part in the appeal either via video conferencing or by telephone, the regulations allow panels to hear appeals as a paper case. We ask that parents submit as much written evidence as possible in advance of the meeting, in the eventuality that your appeal is heard as a paper case.

The protocol for hearing paper case appeals is set out below in line with the regulations:

  • The presenting officer will be provided with a copy of your appeal and asked to submit the admission authority’s arguments and evidence; you will also be given the chance to submit additional evidence if you wish. All submissions should be sent in writing by email but, where this is not possible, by post.
  • The panel and clerk will meet by video conference to consider the submissions and the panel will formulate questions for both you and presenting officer. The aim being to clarify points made and ask for any further relevant information.
  • The clerk will send the questions and all the papers to each of the parties. For example, the presenting officer’s submission will be sent to you along with both sets of questions, and vice versa.
  • Both parties should reply with answers to the questions, and any further points they wish to make. On receipt, the clerk will send each party’s submission to the other party. All parties should send any relevant information or evidence by the specified deadline, otherwise it might not be considered in the appeal panel’s decision.
  • The panel will then meet by video conference, with the clerk, to consider all the information and the panel will reach a decision in the same way as prescribed in the Appeals Code.

Please note: due to the lengthy process of written submission appeals, your case may take several weeks to hear and determine. As a result, paper cases as outlined above will only be heard in exceptional circumstances with the agreement of the independent panel members.

Appeals heard in absence

Where an appellant fails to attend and has not contacted the clerk, the appeal may go ahead and be decided on the written information submitted, as per the regulations.

If an appellant is unable to take part in the hearing at the arranged time, and it is impractical to offer an alternative date, again it may still take place and be determined based on the written submissions. This is also called ‘heard in absence’ which is an existing option for admission appeals.

Security

Devon County Council has an agreement with Microsoft (which covers the use of Microsoft Teams) regarding security measures and protocols when using this software. It remains the obligation of Devon County Council to ensure all data is kept secure in line with government regulations around GDPR. These security protocols also apply when using Microsoft Teams for hearing school admission appeals.

All appeals will be heard in private in the normal way and will not be recorded.

Before the appeal meeting

  • On submitting your appeal online, you will receive an email, acknowledging receipt of your appeal and notifying you of the delay/changes to practice due to current circumstances.
  • Notification of the date and time of your appeal will be sent out 14 days in advance of your appeal, in line with the regulations. The clerk will send out information advising that your appeal will be taking place via video conferencing, along with an information leaflet and Q&A document providing guidance on how your appeal will take place and information about using Teams (also published here in our guide to using Microsoft Teams).
  • All appeals will be heard by video and/or audio conferencing. In exceptional circumstances, where you cannot attend online or via telephone, appeals will be heard as a paper case in line with the regulations. The panel must ensure that appellants are able to fully present their case, in order for them to make a fair and transparent decision on the appeal. The regulations state all appeals must be heard and determined by an appeal panel as soon as reasonably practicable, and we are therefore unable to delay appeals until such time as they can take place in person.
  • The clerk will send out the paperwork (schools case/parental submissions) to you via email 10 days in advance of the meeting, along with an invite email to join a Teams meeting for the specified date/time of their appeal. You will also be notified of the name of the clerk and presenting officer to make it easier to identify them during the video appeal. Paper copies can only be provided in exceptional circumstances, given the restrictions on access to offices and printing facilities. The clerk will need 3 weeks’ notice of any such requirement.
  •  Additional papers may not be accepted on the day of your appeal; however, you can send in additional documents via email up to one working day before the meeting. Please note: do not send in papers via the post as this may not be collected in sufficient time for your appeal hearing.
  • Parent support – if you require a family friend or additional person to support you during your appeal and they do not live in the same household, please ensure you have arranged in advance how you will privately communicate to one another, outside of the appeal taking place. You will need to inform the clerk if an additional meeting request needs to be sent to a family friend in order for them to take part in the appeal.

At the meeting

We ask that parents be ready to join their Teams meeting promptly to avoid any disruption or delay. If appeals are overrunning for any reason and you are the first person to join the meeting, please wait and a clerk will join you shortly.

You should use the link within the calendar invite for the meeting which will say ‘Join Microsoft Teams Meeting’, which will open the Microsoft Teams app on your device automatically. You will be able to add your name when you join so that the panel can clearly identify you.

At the start of the meeting, the clerk will check all required attendees are present and read out a short briefing on meeting etiquette, how the appeal will run and protocols for holding the appeal remotely. The clerk will ‘share their screen’ with a pictorial presentation of microphone and video icons to demonstrate the relevant controls. This briefing will include asking panel members and parents to turn off all unnecessary microphones, unless they are speaking. This prevents background noise, coughing, children etc which is intrusive and disruptive during the meeting. The clerks will also keep a watch on this and will be able to turn off participant microphones when they are not in use. Participants would then need to turn their microphones back on when they wish to speak.

For multiple appeals, the clerk (as part of this briefing) will also ask all participants to turn off unnecessary video. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to turn off the video (unless you are the chair or speaking). This helps with call quality and broadband quality. The panel members will keep their video on at all times. There is no facility for the clerk to turn off participants video or even see who has their video turned on, so it is even more important that participants are aware of this.

During the appeal

The clerk as part of their introduction will clarify the order of hearing.

Both the panel and parents will be asked to hold questions until after the presenting officer has finished their submission, to avoid interruptions and talking across each other. The same will apply when parents present their case.

For the question and answer section, in order to ensure fairness to all parents, the clerk will call out the names of each parent in turn and ask if they have a question, this will be
recorded within the clerk’s notes. This will ensure all parents attending, including those that may be phoning in rather than video conferencing, have had the opportunity to ask any relevant questions.

Before the end of the appeal, the chair will ensure all parties have said all they wish to and asked all questions they may have.

Decisions

Decisions will be made by the panel at the end of the day. Parents will be sent an email the following morning with the outcome of their appeal only (before 10.30am), notifying them that a decision letter will be sent within 7 calendar days.

Disorderly conduct

If any participant interrupts the meeting the chair will warn them accordingly.

If that person continues to interrupt or disrupt proceedings to the effect that the appeal cannot continue, the chair will ask the clerk to remove them as a participant from the meeting and their appeal will be heard as a paper case, as permitted by the regulations.

Equality Act issues

It is also important for authorities to ensure that any reasonable adjustments are taken into account when considering the practicality of a remotely attended appeal.

If you are unable to access the internet and the video conferencing facility, you will be able to dial into the meeting via telephone. If you are unable to use the telephone and you have exceptional circumstances, your appeal may be heard as a paper case.

If English is not your first language and you require the use of an interpreter, or you require the use of a British Sign Language interpreter, please inform the clerk at appeals@devon.gov.uk and this will be arranged for you.

If you require any other reasonable adjustments, please inform the clerk.

Post appeals

A questionnaire will be sent to parents to collect feedback on the use of video/telephone conferencing for holding appeals and whether this may continue to be an option in the future.

Meeting etiquette reminders

Only those participating in the appeal should be present in the room. Neither panel members or parents should have other members of their household in the same room, unless they are supporting a parents appeal.

  • Mute microphones when you are not talking.
  • Switch off video if you are not speaking.
  • Only speak when invited to do so by the chair. If you wish to raise a question or speak, please use the ‘raise your hand’ facility within Teams.
  • Speak clearly and please state your name.
  • If you’re referring to a specific page, mention the page number.
  • Switch off your video and microphone after you have spoken.
  • The only person on video will be the chair and the one other person speaking.

FAQs

When do the new regulations apply?

The government regulations apply to appeals lodged between 24 April 2020 until September 2022 (including those appeals lodged before 24 April).

Can I delay my appeal to be heard in person?

The new government regulations make it very clear that appeals must be heard as soon as possible, to enable parents to know which school their child will attend in September.

As it is unclear when it would be possible to hold appeals in person, it is in the best interests of all children and families to have their appeals heard without delay, and we will therefore not (and cannot) delay appeals until a later date. Parents can, however, withdraw their appeal and resubmit them after 31 January 2021 if they wish to have a face to face hearing but should be aware that the school may have been required to admit more children in the meantime, for instance children with an Education, Health and Care Plan naming the school or looked after children, under fair access arrangements.

When will my appeal be heard?

The regulations allow for a relaxation on the usual timescales for appeals, however, we will continue to hear all appeals as quickly as is reasonably practicable.

We aim to hear the majority of those appeals submitted as part of the main admissions round before the start of the September term, wherever possible. All appeals will continue to take place throughout May/June/July, and if necessary into August, and you will be notified of the date 14 days in advance.

Who will hear my appeal?

Panels will be made up of three volunteer panel members, as is currently the case. An independent clerk and a presenting officer from the Devon County Council Admissions team will also be present. Neither the clerk or the presenting officer play a part in the decision making process.

Should a panel member need to withdraw part way through the appeals process for a reason related to the incidence or transmission of coronavirus, and it is not reasonably practical to find a replacement, the appeal may continue with two panel members.

How long will my appeal take?

The panel has allowed additional time for appeals to take place via video and telephone conferencing. For a single appeal, please allow up to one hour for your appeal. For schools which have multiple appeals, please allow up to 1.5 hours for stage 1 (school submission and questions) and 30 mins for your individual stage 2.

What if I have additional information to submit?

You can submit additional evidence to the clerk up to one working day before your appeal. Please email to appeals@devon.gov.uk Do not send in the post as this is unlikely to be received in time for your appeal and the post is not checked on a daily basis. Additional evidence may not be accepted on the day of your appeal.

What if there is more than one appeal for my school?

Where there is more than one appeal for a school, all parents will attend stage 1 (the school’s presenting case) of the appeal together. This ensures that all appellants hear the same information at stage 1 and that no new evidence is produced by the presenting officer in later appeals.

The appellants’ personal cases (stage 2) are then heard individually by the panel without the presence of other parents.

Who makes the decision on my appeal and how will I find out the outcome?

Decisions will be made by the panel at the end of the day. Parents will be sent an email the following morning with the outcome of their appeal only (before 10.30am), notifying
them that a decision letter will be sent within 7 calendar days, providing further information and all the reasons.

What happens if I have no access to video or phone facilities?

If you advise the clerk in advance that you do not have access to facilities for video conferencing or telephone, and you have demonstrated exceptional circumstances, you can request that your appeal is heard as a paper case. The panel will need to have agreed this for your case.

What happens if my broadband fails during the appeal?

During a single appeal, if a participant’s broadband fails and they drop out of the meeting, a short adjournment will take place to allow them to re-join the meeting or the clerk will dial in the appellant. If this is not possible and the parent is unable to participate, the panel will decide whether it will be heard as an appeal in absence and the decision made on the information available to them. This will be recorded in the clerk’s notes.

During stage 1 of a multiple appeal, if a parent’s broadband fails, it will be the appellants responsibility to dial back in with the conference call number provided with the joining instruction, and then re-join the meeting. Again, if they are unable to re-join the meeting, Stage 1 will continue in their absence.

The parent will then be able to re-join for stage 2 with their second Teams Meeting invite and continue with the individual part of their appeal. If this is not successful, again the parent can be dialled into the meeting. If this is still unsuccessful, the panel will decide whether to continue the appeal heard in absence based on the written information submitted. This will be recorded in the clerk’s notes.