Thank God It's Friday

21st June 1996 at 01:00
Monday: A thick, brown envelope thuds on to the door-mat.

Only 23 sets of appeal submissions. Two families must have pulled out since I spoke to the clerk last week. A quick thumb through the pile locates my car-park pass and chairman's script. I glance through to see who is on the panel with me and put everything else on one side to read later.

Tuesday: When I first agreed to join the appeals panel I remember being promised an easy introduction.

It never happened. There are no easy appeals. This new batch of cases are every bit as heartrending as all the others I've dealt with. I scan all 23 and highlight the issues which need clarifying. It takes an hour. New members read through every case in minute detail and try to make decisions before the hearing. Experienced members know this is fruitless.

Wednesday: I arrive early at the county council offices to meet the committee members and clerk.

Two of the other four members have never done this before so I brief them about what to expect. The price of being an experienced chairman is inducting a novice clerk so I try to calm his fears too. There are two appeal committees running today so we are in a small overspill room.

I glance at the clock and then welcome the first of today's 10 sets of parents.

Thursday: By mid-afternoon it is hard going. Suddenly my chairman's introduction seems to be coming from a dismembered voice speaking in fluent Russian. When you are hearing the identical LEA case as to why the school is full for the 18th time it is hard for anyone, except the parents, to display enthusiasm. The experienced panel members know the importance of questioning the LEA representative about overcrowding at the school, even though we know all the answers by heart now. We force ourselves through the inertia barrier. The new members begin to wilt.

Friday: Three more hearings and then we retire to consider our verdicts.

As often happens there is a surprising unanimity about the 22 cases (another pulled out on the day). Within half an hour we have upheld five, rejected ten and put seven on one side to consider further. We decide to grab a sandwich for lunch and then reassemble to discuss the outstanding seven at length. They are all very worthy appeals but on the other hand the school is bursting at the seams. Finally we agree to uphold two more. In the old days I used to go home feeling guilty about every case I turned down. Now I usually feel that just one person has been hard done by. Anyhow, it's Friday. Three days hard work for no pay. This is what everyone calls public service. I think I deserve a stiff drink.

Denise Bates lives in Stalybridge, Cheshire

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