The role of the independent review panel panel is to review the governing board’s decision not to reinstate a permanently excluded pupil. In reviewing the decision, the panel must consider the interests and circumstances of the permanently excluded pupil, including the circumstances in which the pupil was permanently excluded, and have regard to the interests of other pupils and people working at the school.
The panel must apply the civil standard of proof i.e., ‘on the balance of probabilities’ which means that it is more likely than not that a fact is true. This should be applied rather than the criminal standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.
Making a statement
You should be allowed the opportunity to take the panellists through your arguments. This involves setting out the main points of your argument with reference to key pieces of evidence. This is the main opportunity to give detailed reasons why the exclusion should be rescinded and the young person reinstated. If you have a lot of arguments, some stronger and some weaker, your statement is a good opportunity to develop your central or strongest argument. If the panellists have your arguments in writing, you should not feel the need to mention every point but instead take the opportunity to drive home the central point or challenge the school's key arguments.
This can be done by following these steps:
- Try to ensure that your written arguments are provided to the IRP ahead of the hearing so that you do not have to put them all in your oral statement. To create written arguments, you can follow the Step-by-Step Guide: Preparing written arguments for the independent review panel
- Choose your strongest arguments and the facts you need to rely on to make them forcefully.
- Plan a statement that is clear and well structured, taking the panellists through each of the important facts, evidence, and arguments in turn to create a powerful and logical conclusion. To plan your statement, consider using the Template document: Talking points for independent review panel hearing
- Make your statement in the hearing by speaking clearly and slowly. You can simply read from your talking points or recite your statement from memory if you are more comfortable doing so.
Asking questions of the school
You should be allowed the opportunity to ask questions of the governing board, SEN expert, a person appointed by an IRP to provide expert advice to the panel on SEN issues relevant to the exclusion, if one is present, and members of the school staff who are present. This is best viewed as an opportunity to strengthen your argument and to challenge aspects of the school’s argument, not as a fact-finding exercise. This is because you should do your fact-finding before the hearing by getting the evidence you need and speaking to the headteacher and family about the reasons for the exclusion.
However, once you are at the hearing, you do not want to ask broad, open-ended questions because this will give the governing board and school staff the opportunity to introduce new information and give you answers you had not predicted or prepared for. This might undermine parts of your arguments and make it difficult for you to present a well-structured and convincing challenge to the exclusion. The best questions are ones to which you know the answers and where the answers will highlight key points in your arguments and expose flaws in the position of the school.
For example, you have made the argument in your statement that the governing board failed to consider a critical piece of evidence - the young person's mentoring records - before coming to their decision.
You would want to avoid questions like "what evidence did you consider", because this gives the governing board the chance to highlight their stronger considerations and take the IRP through a list of steps they took that sound positive. However, if you ask, "You didn't consider the mentoring records, did you?" you turn the question into a simple yes or no, and a "no" answer would highlight a key point in your argument. You also know that if they answer "yes", you can point to the absence of evidence in the minutes and decision letter to challenge this answer.
You can prepare the best questions by following these steps:
- Go through the evidence and the school’s arguments. Try to find the contradictions you want to highlight and the weakest parts of their case you want to expose.
- Write a list of questions in advance. To do this, consider using the Template document: Plan for questioning
- When asking questions, speak clearly and slowly, reading off your prepared questions if that is simplest.
- Be prepared to challenge the school over evasive answers. You should be able to keep them to the question you asked and ensure they answer with direct responses rather than with their own questions or irrelevant points.
Making a closing statement
You should be allowed the opportunity to make a closing statement. This is the shortest of the three advocacy elements, but it is also the most difficult to plan for. A closing statement should not introduce new evidence or arguments. Instead, a closing statement responds to elements of the school’s case and provides you with an opportunity to pick up on information gained through your questioning. This is why it can be difficult to plan for in advance, as you cannot be sure of what will come out in the course of the hearing.
If there is nothing that has come up during the meeting to respond to, you can simply use your statement to drive home key parts of your case.
You can prepare for the closing statement by following these steps:
- Consider in advance what two or three things you would want the panellists to remember above all others. Write these down in a way that is concise and impactful.
- During the meeting, scribble down anything that you would like to respond to that you had not planned for.
- If you need to say something you hadn’t planned for, remember that you can take a minute to gather your thoughts and speak when you are ready. If you need to bullet-point things that you want to address, then you can take a moment to do so.
Once you are confident you have what you need to undertake the advocacy at the panel, click finish to complete this guide.