Tuesday, 31 July 2012

How to complain to schools in England

Typical complaints procedure if you want to make a complaint to a school in England.

The school has approximately 1,400 pupils on roll and 150-160 staff. The head teacher set in place a new complaints procedure upon taking-up post, which was based on previous experiences of handling complaints. The procedure is publicised in the annual parent handbook, and aims to provide an open opportunity for parents to express complaints or concerns of any kind, which are signposted accordingly.

There are three main stages, as follows:

Stage One: Initial acknowledgement of the concern or complaint - at this stage, the parent is encouraged to speak to the member of staff concerned e.g. class teacher or form tutor, to resolve the matter informally if possible.

Stage Two: Consideration by the head teacher– if the matter is still not resolved, the parent is asked to put it in writing to the head teacher, who exercises their discretion. Concerns are still taken seriously, but are delegated to line managers such as Heads of Year to address in the first instance. Complaints are assigned an investigating officer, who is always a member of the senior leadership team. The parent is informed in writing and the complaint is progressed through meetings, written and telephone contact as appropriate.

Stage Three - Consideration by the chair of governors – if the parent wishes to protest the school's decision, they can write to the chair, who will review how the complaint has been investigated, and whether the judgement is reasonable. The complainant is informed of the outcome. Unless the chair finds that the school acted unreasonably, the complaint is closed. The parent is signposted to the Secretary of State if they wish to pursue this route.

The school is quite large, and causes for concern are raised on a fairly regular basis. However, only 3 to 5 complaints are received each year that reach the stage of formal investigation. The head teacher felt that the transparency of the procedure, the ethos of the school in addressing and the immediate acknowledgement of all complaints were factors in maintaining a low number reaching formal stages.

There was some variation between different types of school in the chains of contact used to resolve complaints informally. Stakeholders reported that secondary schools had more staff levels to go through, which provided more chances for the issue to be resolved. For example:

In a typical secondary school parents can contact tutors, heads of year, the pastoral team, assistant head or senior management team representative and then the head teacher.

The typical size of primary schools, nurseries or special schools meant the chain was shorter, but stakeholders reported that the school was more likely to operate an ‘open door policy’ where parents were more encouraged to discuss any issues with teachers or senior staff. This approach was more likely to be facilitated by closer parent-school relationships and the greater contact parents have with schools.

In the main, informal face to face or telephone discussions were the main mechanism for informal concerns to be raised. There were exceptional examples, however, of an opportunity being given to parents to raise concerns through written communications, for example through home-school communication books.

Source: Parents and Young people’s Complaints about School (DFE) by Katherine KcKenna and laurie Day 2010