Ayesha Shergill, who’s just completed the second year of her Law with a Language (Spanish) LLB degree at Kent, was recently invited to sit on a School Admissions Appeal Panel. Here, she reflects on how her legal education helped inform the experience of being a member of a decision-making panel.
I recently had an incredible opportunity to train and sit as the youngest panel member on a School Admissions Appeal Panel for the London Borough of Waltham Forest.
Having finished my Stage 2 Law exams in late-May, I was keen to stay active over the summer, so I had been taking part in various online programmes (such as earning certificates in Global Law), but no experience has come close to my time spent on a decision-making body of a legal procedure within local government – that is for certain!
As a panel member, I was deciding whether children should get to go to their preferred primary or secondary school upon appeal. For this role, I had to read the cases carefully beforehand, question both the appellants and the school admissions authority during the hearings and then come to a decision with the other two panel members on whether to allow the appeal or not. In just one week, I heard 35 cases! You can read more about this experience on my Legal Blog on Instagram: @mylawstudentlife
It’s undeniable that my legal education helped me in this experience, from the very beginning of the training stage to when I sat (virtually) through the hearings and the actual decision-making process. My previous studies of Public Law 1 and Public Law 2 during the first and second year of my degree at Kent Law School tied very closely to the work I was going to be undertaking, given that I had already gained a broader understanding of local government itself. When references were made to judicial review, natural justice and the Ombudsman, it was hugely reassuring to already know what they were, from my previous studies of Public Law. Given that I was by far the youngest person to be involved with the School Admissions Appeal Panel, it was a relief to know that I had already established an understanding of legal procedures and governmental administration!
The training stage was fascinating and comprised of presentations, reading the School Admission Appeals Code, and observing a whole day of hearings before being able to sit as a panel member myself. For part of my training, I was advised on sections of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. Having studied the Human Rights Act across various modules of my studies so far, it was encouraging that I was already familiar with those particular sections, such as Article 6 (The Right to a Fair Trial), for example. Being able to read legislation is a skill that all law students develop throughout their Law degree and it helped a lot with the training stage in particular. Arguably, the most important piece of legislation throughout the school admissions appeal process is the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. This was a piece of legislation that I was previously unfamiliar with, so it was helpful to have already developed skills on how to correctly read and interpret legislation, so that I was accurately able to weigh up the argument of the appellant with the prejudice of the School on the provision of efficient education and the efficient use of resources, to make my judgment. I found that the skills that I had learnt back at Stage 1 of my law degree were particularly helpful here!
Throughout the training and the appeals process, I was often thinking about how I was presenting and conducting myself. Be mature, be professional, be eloquent, I constantly told myself. I was determined to avoid coming across as a young student who was not ready for such a responsibility. I felt that, despite having had previous jobs and legal work experience in London firms, the level of professionalism I would need to sit on a decision-making body of a legal procedure would be much more demanding. It’s now abundantly clear that my Kent Law School experiences of Mooting and the Kent Law Clinic really helped me achieve the maturity, professionalism and eloquence that I needed throughout numerous hearings per day. I’m confident I conducted myself in this manner throughout, and that the leadership and professionalism skills that I have gained from this experience will serve me very well in the future.
Reflecting on this unique experience and all that I have gained from it, I feel that I am heading into the third and final year of my Law degree as a much more well-rounded and confident student. I feel more secure in my own abilities and about my career as a Lawyer post-university, given that I not only have this new experience to strengthen my CV and LinkedIn profile, but most importantly, I have gained invaluable personal and professional skills which will benefit me in my chosen professional setting! This was an incredible insight into local government and I’m grateful for all the skills I’ve gained thus far at Law School that helped optimise this opportunity for me!
I’d encourage fellow students who are keen to strengthen their CV’s, to reach out to their connections and to see what opportunities could be available! This opportunity was unexpected when it arose, but I now have a rare and exciting experience to share, and you could too!