Complaints Procedure

 

Introduction

Complaints are not always easy to define. It is therefore important to keep in mind a distinction between concerns, problems and complaints.

Three stage process

The model procedure provides for a common three stage process for schools to follow in handling parental complaints. The main aim at all stages in this procedure will be to ensure that the complaint is fully considered and is resolved, in so far as it is possible to do so, to the satisfaction of the complainant. It is not intended that these guidelines should replace the normal discussion which takes place in schools on day-to-day problems and concerns as they arise. It is only where the complainants remain dissatisfied with the outcome of such discussion that further steps may need to be taken.

Stage 1 (informal stage)

The informal stage is the first complaint stage. Parents should be encouraged to settle the matter with the Headteacher, class teacher or designated staff member. Most straightforward complaints and problems are likely to be resolved at this point. This stage is described in more detail below.

Stage 2 - Chair of Governors/Education Department

The second stage (and first formal stage) is where the parent/carer is not satisfied with the informal response or feels it is not appropriate to contact the Headteacher. They should be advised to take up the matter in writing with the Chair of Governors. The Chair of Governors can, if they wish to do so, ask the Education Department to undertake a formal investigation and provide a detailed report. This stage is described in more detail below.

Stage 3 - The Governing Body

The third stage will be where the parent/carer is not satisfied with the outcome of the first formal stage. They should be advised to put their concerns in writing to the clerk of the governing body for consideration by a governors' Complaints Committee.

Definition of a complaint

The Council's definition has been agreed as follows: 'A complaint is considered to be any communication received by the council either in writing, or by telephone, or in person, which expresses dissatisfaction about any aspect of the council, the standard of service or actions or lack of action by the council or its staff'.

For schools, the following definition has been agreed: “A complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction, however made, by a person or persons with a legitimate interest in the school but not being employed at the school, about the standard of teaching of members of the teaching staff, or about the conduct, actions or omissions of members of the teaching or non-teaching staff employed at the school.”

Timescales

The following time limits should apply to all complaints handled under the school's complaints procedure:

Stage 1 (Informal): Parents/carers seeking to resolve matters of concern should receive a response within 15 working days of making initial contact unless there is a good reason not to do so. The response should offer the complainant a full explanation or set out the steps that are proposed to resolve the complaint.

Stage 2: Should be responded to in 20 working days.

Stage 3: Should be responded to in 20 working days.

The longer time limits for stages 2 and 3 reflect the fact that these complaints may be complex and therefore likely to take longer to resolve. Where it is not possible to respond to complaints within these timescales, the complainant should be informed in writing of the reason for the delay and given an anticipated response date. The complainant should be allowed a reasonable timescale in which to pursue a complaint

Complaints procedure

Stage 1 (Informal) - complaint at school level

A degree of discretion should always be allowed in dealing with complaints. It may not be appropriate in all situations to advise all parents/carers to put their concerns in writing as this would tend to over formalise the situation and possibly lead to entrenched positions. The parent/carer is advised, where appropriate, to try to resolve problems at a local level, i.e. within the school. If the parent/carer is reluctant to do this, they may prefer to approach the Communications & Information Section of the Education department, who will facilitate communication between all parties. The school's structure for dealing with complaints will be different in nursery, primary and secondary schools.

In nursery and primary schools, a parent/carer will tend to go directly to the class teacher to attempt to resolve the matter. In secondary schools, where parental contact is less immediate, Headteachers will wish to specify which senior staff member (e.g. heads of year or deputy heads) parents/carers should refer to in the event of a complaint. In the case of non-teaching staff, Headteachers should determine to whom complaints should be referred. Teachers to whom the complaint has been referred would have a duty to inform the Headteacher if any issue is not resolved after discussion and careful explanation. Where further attempts to resolve the issue informally have not been successfully achieved, the Headteacher may wish to discuss the matter with officers from the Communications and Information Section or the Head of Information and External Relations at the Education department.

However, it will not be acceptable for complainants to keep being asked to return for further informal discussions. If the issue is unresolved to the complainant's satisfaction, s/he should be advised how to proceed to the formal stage of the procedure. If the recipient of the complaint feels that it would be more appropriate for the complaint to be pursued formally, they should advise the complainant accordingly. A teacher or member of the non teaching staff has a right to be informed if a serious complaint is made against him/her and how it will be dealt with.

 

 

Stage 2 - Chair of Governors / Education department

Where the complaint is of a serious nature and it is not possible to resolve it at school level, the complainant will be referred to the Chair of Governors if they wish to pursue their complaint further. The complainant will be encouraged to put their complaint in writing. At the same time the Chair of Governors will be offered the services of the Head of Information and External Relations either to investigate the complaint to see if an 'independent' investigation would resolve the issues or to mediate between the school and the complainant.

If the Chair of Governors decides to investigate the complaint, s/he will be excluded from hearing any complaint at stage 3. If it is decided to delegate the complaint to the Head of Information and External Relations, the complainant should be informed of this in writing by the Chair of Governors. An investigation will be undertaken by the Head of Information and External Relations and the results of the investigation will be made available to the Chair of Governors.

The Chair of Governors will decide whether to meet the complainant together with the Head of Information and External Relations, in order to feed back the outcome of the investigation or to write to him/her. If the Chair of Governors decides to undertake the investigation, he/she will decide whether to meet the complainant in order to feed back the outcome of the investigation or to write to him/her. The complainant must be informed of what the next stage will be should they remain dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation. Any parties named in the complaint must be informed of the outcome of the investigation.

Stage 3 - complaints to the Governing Body

If the complainant is still not satisfied, he or she would be asked to put the complaint in writing formally to the governing body for consideration by a Complaints Committee. At this stage the complaint may well be different from the original complaint lodged as it would include dissatisfaction with the action taken by the school management to resolve the original complaint.

A committee of three governors would be delegated the power to make a final decision on the complaint on behalf of the whole governing body. Members of the committee would have no previous involvement in the complaint.

This would mean that if the Chair of Governors investigated a complaint at stage 2 they would be excluded from being on the committee at this stage as would any governor if they had undertaken the investigation on behalf of the Chair. Although the committee's primary function is to decide on the merits or otherwise of the complaints, the committee will also play an important role in attempting a resolution of the complaint even at this stage. The committee would receive written evidence from the complainant on the complaint and from the Headteacher on what action has been taken to resolve the complaint.

Any written evidence will be circulated to all parties before the hearing. It may well be that the outcome of any investigation by the Education Department will be submitted as part of the evidence either by the Headteacher or by the complainant. The committee would hear evidence from witnesses from both sides relating specifically to the complaint and the action taken. The committee will be able to question the complainant, the Headteacher (both of whom would be entitled to be accompanied by a 'friend' who can speak on their behalf if necessary) and the witnesses; the Headteacher and complainant can also question each other and the witnesses. A suggested procedure is set out below:

• Introduction by Chair of committee
• Complainant makes statement of complaint and outcome sought
• Questions to complainant by committee and Headteacher
• All parties hear and question witnesses called by complainant
• Headteacher makes statement
• Questions to Headteacher by committee and complainant
• All parties hear and question witnesses called by Headteacher
• Headteacher makes final statement
• Complainant makes final statement
• Committee considers case in camera and reaches decision on whether the complaint is upheld or rejected and may call for certain action to be taken by the school or the parent.

Once this decision is reached it is final. It would not be possible or practicable to allow for an appeal to a second committee of the governing body. Similar to all other types of parental grievance, where a parent remains dissatisfied with a decision of the governing body, it would then be considered by an independent body. The further recourse for the complainant therefore, would be to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on the grounds that the governing body has not discharged its duty properly or additionally, if they remain dissatisfied with the governing body' final decision, to the office of the Ombudsman. Detailed guidance on the practicalities of organising and conducting a complaints hearing will be made available to the Chair and members of the Complaints Committee and the Clerk.

Investigating complaints - a model procedure

A model procedure, akin to but distinct from the Section 23 procedure for investigating complaints has been produced to accompany these guidance notes. The model procedure has been adopted by the governing body and applied in the case of complaints which do not relate to the delivery of the National Curriculum.

Anonymous complaints

By definition, people who send in such complaints do not wish to be accountable for what they have written. In terms of this complaints procedure, there is no duty for Headteachers or governors to pursue anonymous complaints because there is no named complainant to respond to. However, it is important to realise that such complaints may either directly allege or indirectly imply a serious matter which may be to the detriment of the school. It is therefore recommended, that it is left to the Headteacher's discretion as to whether or not an anonymous complaint justifies investigation. The Headteacher may, if they so wish, seek the advice of the LEA.

Monitoring complaints

It is proposed that records are kept of all stage 2 and stage 3 complaints, i.e. formal complaints and that governors would decide whether to include the number of complaints and types of complaint in their annual report to parents. The overall number of formal complaints would be included in the Director's Annual Report and a simple return is provided for this purpose by the Head of Information and External Relations.

Publicity

The LEA has produced a leaflet for parents which explains the three stage procedure in simple language. The leaflet is available in schools, adult education centres, libraries and at other council outlets. School prospectuses must explain how parents can make complaints about the curriculum and related matters in accordance with S.23 of the Education Reform Act 1988 and it is recommended that details of this procedure are also included