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Thank God it's Friday

Monday An unexpected phone call. Can I help in a crisis and chair an admissions appeals panel this week? It'll mean three days' work as it's a popular secondary school and there are 33 appeals. I check my diary. I agree and effusive thanks come down the phone. The papers will be couriered to me asap.

Tuesday We start badly with a barrack-room lawyer who challenges everything and paints the local education authority as uniquely duplicitous. We are unimpressed by his argument and agree the LEA has done things properly, but he has overrun his allotted time. Happily, other people's arguments are less complex, but we still fall behind. We gulp sandwiches in a hurried lunch hour. We scribble copious notes in an effort to remember the various families.

Wednesday We hear of a family that forgot to fill in the form. Father tells us why. His self-control cracks as he speaks of his wife's mental breakdown, his failing business, his mother's death. They are caught by the system. Others are caught by it too - or are trying to buck it. We try to assess pleas justly and sympathetically. The overcrowded school also has our sympathy.

Thursday A woman arrives with a social worker. She lives outside the LEA boundary but wants her son to go to a school inside it. She is told he already has a place in a school in our authority - the one she originally asked for. No one can get her to understand and she becomes upset. I am losing control of the proceedings. At last the social worker persuades her to leave. We are all wrung out and find it hard to keep our focus through the rest of the day. It is a relief when two children move off the afternoon list. We reach the end, make final decisions and sign the official list.

Friday Our clerk sends our decisions to parents today. I ponder on how few will be relieved. The rest will be resigned - or angry because they find it hard to accept that they do not have "parental choice" after all. I think the panel did a fair job, but it's an onerous responsibility for a bunch of unpaid amateurs.

Rachel Howard is a volunteer panel member for LEA admissions appeals. She writes under a pseudonym

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