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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 18:01 GMT
Parents buy school appeals advice
By Alison Smith
BBC News education reporter

Graham Jones
Mr Jones' business has grown rapidly over the last few years
Some parents are paying hundreds of pounds to consultants because they are desperate to win their school appeals.

They are taking advice from experts as they believe it will increase their chance of winning. Some are so daunted that they also pay for representation.

Under the new co-ordinated system in England, parents got their children's school allocation letters on March 1.

Ministers say measures in the education bill will create even more good school places and increase parental choice.

'Better knowledge'

Consultant Graham Jones says his phone does not stop ringing at this time of year.

On the end of the line are anxious and upset parents who have just received some bad news and want help preparing their school appeal.

Some parents use emotive arguments, which won't work
Graham Jones
"I've spoken to several crying parents already today," he said.

"These next few days will be extremely busy. We help as many parents as we can, but we will probably end up turning down about 500 because we can't take any more on."

For a fee of 325 Mr Jones' company, School Select, will write your appeal document for you. If you are willing to pay 800 he will attend your appeal and put your case on your behalf.

Mr Jones - a former primary school head - says one in six parents who do not seek help is successful at appeal, but claims his success rate is between 60% and 70%.

"I have better knowledge than the parents and can challenge the schools.

"Schools do absolutely say things to parents which are untrue, and use arguments which to a parent would hold a lot of weight, when I know they are wrong.

"But parents may use arguments which are emotive, such as 'my Johnny will be bullied', and so on, which won't work.

"There are only two reasons for which a school can turn you down and you need to be able to challenge them."

Those grounds are: that admitting one extra child would be prejudicial to the education of the other pupils, or that it would be an "inefficient use of resources".

'Cheaper than private education'

One of his clients, who did not want to be named, said: "If it costs near to 1,000 and gets my daughter a place, then it will be worth it and much cheaper than private education.

"But I don't think any parent should have to do this."

Mr Jones' clients are from across the country, but he says a large volume of calls come from London, where competition for school places is more intense.

A simple internet search reveals several private businesses and individuals offering advice and support for parents going through school appeals.

But local authorities and bodies such as the Advisory Centre for Education can also offer them free advice.

The ACE offers an advice line and booklet to parents who want to appeal. Alison Murdoch, from ACE, said parents would have to convince the school that to admit one more child when it was already full would not be prejudicial to the education of other children.

She said the fact that parents were prepared to pay so much for advice and representation was "a reflection of where it had all gone wrong, where some schools are considered unacceptable".

"Parents are desperate and angry because they were led to believe they had a choice - when they only really had a preference," she said.

The government emphasises that there is free advice available, and that the system is working well. A network of school choice advisers to help parents navigate the admissions system is in the pipeline and, officials say, the number of appeals is falling.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said: "Our education bill measures will create even more good school places, and increase parental choice.

"Free transport for children living in low income families to any of their three nearest secondary schools will also ensure that parents do not see distance and the cost of travel as a barrier to choice."

Research

One parent has also written an advisory pamphlet for parents based on his successful school appeal.

Alan Sinfeld says he is not trying to make a profit, but just trying to help others in the situation he found himself in.

"We couldn't believe that my daughter hadn't been allocated a place at the nearest school," he said.

"I did hours of research, which meant that we had the best possible chance in an appeal."

Graham Jones says there are a few other professional consultants, but he is critical of parents who - unlike Mr Sinfield - charge fees on the basis of their experience of one successful appeal.

He says he has never considered for a minute that he is making money out of desperation.

"We are very different service providers to others - who will only offer advice, not assist you or write the appeal document for you and do not represent parents at appeal hearings.

"Never has a client - successful or not - raised this, so I suppose this isn't their perception of what we are doing."




SEE ALSO:
My struggle for a school place
01 Mar 06 |  Education
How much choice do parents have?
30 Sep 05 |  Education


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