Thank God it's Friday;Diary

25th June 1999 at 01:00
MONDAY It's just after 9am and I'm staggering to the council offices carrying 1kg of paper to begin hearing school admission appeals. No one has told me about the improved security system and the burly security guard turns me away. While I'm queuing for a temporary pass I hear the first appeal as the unsuspecting parents rehearse their case.

We hear eight appeals. By the time we finish, my visitor's pass has expired. So have I.

TUESDAY The situation is complex. The school is near the local education authority border and geography bedevils allocating places. Another LEA school two miles away has fallen in popularity. Applicants from the built-up area between the two have to be offered the popular one under the distance criterion. Those from the more rural area beyond the popular school fall foul of this and are allocated the unpopular one. Some cross-boundary appellants live closer than ones in our LEA. The head is prepared, against LEA advice, to admit half of those appealing.

WEDNESDAY Different security staff refuse to let me through to the appeal room: "Parents must wait here until everyone else arrives." I desperately tell them that I'm chairing the panel - and then wave my ream of paper. A council officer recognises me and opens the door. I slip through and fortify myself with coffee.

The appeal is almost too much for one father. He stares at the female panel, clerk and LEA representative. "I thought I'd thought of everything," he says disbelievingly, "but I never imagined having to argue with women."

THURSDAY Appeals are emotional. Over the week we see 30 families who want nothing more than the best for their children and believe only one school can provide it. Some see themselves as failures because they have not got their children into a good school. A few seem to be playing the system as they hold places at quality schools in the other authority.

In the evening I go to my first parents' evening at a secondary school, where we move between staff in the hall, library and dining room like pieces in a giant game of Cluedo. I keep wondering how I'd feel if we had been refused our first-choice school.

FRIDAY The final appeal finishes at lunchtime. A few appellants have got a tough deal: a by-product of a transparent admission process. Successful appeals to voluntary schools free up a few more places - and past experience suggests that not everyone will turn up in September. The panel take a deep breath. As we are not far above the head's preferred intake we uphold all the outstanding appeals.

Denise Bates chairs school admission appeals for a local education authority in north-west England

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