This model procedure has been produced to assist headteachers, staff and governors in dealing with general complaints.
This guidance does not deal with complaints dealt with under other existing management or statutory procedures such as disciplinary and capability issues relating to a member of staff, allegations of abuse of children, complaints against the statementing process, etc. It is important to consider the details of the complaint carefully at the outset to ensure that the appropriate procedure is followed.
It is particularly important that staff are aware that any complaint or allegation with a child protection element should be dealt with through existing Child Protection Procedures.
Should any parent report a general complaint to the Schools Management Service, within the Authority then that parent will, in the first instance, be directed to the school for the matter to be considered by the headteacher. If the parent does not wish to discuss the matter with the school then the Authority will take the complaint and liase with the Headteacher as to the best method of response and resolution to the concern. Governors and headteachers should judge each complaint on its merits and use their discretion as to what, if any, action to take. The extent of the involvement of the Schools Management Service in the complaint process will be dependent on whether the Governing Body has elected to purchase the service.
STAGE 1: GUIDELINES FOR DEALING WITH CONCERNS
The vast majority of concerns and complaints can be resolved informally. There are many occasions where concerns are resolved very quickly through the class teacher or office staff or headteacher, depending on whom the complainant first approached.
Complainants must feel able to raise concerns with members of staff without any formality, either in person, by telephone or in writing.
At first it may be unclear whether a complainant is asking a question or expressing an opinion rather than making a complaint. S/he may want a preliminary discussion about an issue to help decide whether they should to take the issue further.
A model procedure for schools to use at Stage 1
Complainants may be offered an opportunity to discuss their concern with the appropriate member of staff designated to deal with the situation, who will clarify with them the nature of the concern, and reassure them that the school wants to hear about it. The appropriate procedure to follow should be decided at this stage. The member of staff may be able to explain to the complainant how the situation occurred. It can be helpful to identify at this point what outcome the complainant is looking for. Depending on the nature and / or complexity of the complaint, it may be appropriate to advise the them that an immediate solution may not be forthcoming and that, facts or information relating to the incident may have to be clarified before a response can be given.
If the member of staff first contacted cannot immediately deal with the matter, s/he should make a clear note of the date, name, contact address or phone number and a brief note of the nature of the complaint. It is recommended that schools consider a process by which complaints are logged and monitored. In this way staff can be appraised of any ongoing complaint / issue, or patterns that may lead the school to review it’s policies and practices, or highlight any other issue relating to the child or family.
All members of staff should know the procedure for referring on a concern, if necessary, to the person with responsibility for the particular issue raised by the complainant. S/he should check later to make sure that the referral has been successful.
In smaller schools or on certain major issues, the Headteacher may decide to deal with concerns directly at this stage.
If the concern relates to the Headteacher, the complainant should be advised to put the complaint in writing and send this to the Schools Management Service or the Chair of the Governing Body, and give them details of how to do so. They should be advised that the information would be shared with the Headteacher. On receipt of such a complaint the parties concerned shall inform the Headteacher of the nature of the complaint and send a copy of any correspondence for his / her response.
The staff member dealing with the concern should make sure that the complainant is clear at all time of any action (including monitoring of the situation) that has been agreed, putting this in writing only if this seems the best way of making this clear. In any case, a note should be made of the action and retained on file.
Where no satisfactory solution has been found within a maximum of 15 school days, complainants should be asked if they wish their complaint to be considered further. If so, they should be given clear information, both orally and in writing, about how to proceed and about any independent advice available to them. (Annex A)
STAGE 2: GUIDELINES FOR DEALING WITH COMPLAINTS
At stage 2 it will have been established that the concern is a definite complaint and the correct procedure to follow will have been identified. In these cases the Headteacher may already have been involved in the matter; in others, particularly in larger schools, it may be his / her first involvement. The complainant or school may wish the involvement of a third party to assist them in the resolution of their concern, for example the LA or the Chair of Governors.
A model procedure for school to use at Stage 2
The Headteacher (LA or the Chair of Governors) should acknowledge the complaint in writing within a maximum of 5 school days of receiving the complaint, confirming their understanding of the exact nature of the complaint. The acknowledgement should give a brief explanation of the school’s complaints procedure and a target date for providing a response to the complainant. This should be within 15 school days. If this proves impossible, a letter should be sent explaining the reason for the delay and giving a revised target date for a response.
The Headteacher (LA or Chair of Governors) could provide an opportunity for the complainant to meet him / her to supplement any information provided previously. It should be made clear to the complainant that if s/he wishes, they may be accompanied to any meeting by a friend, relative or representative, who may wish to speak on his or her behalf. Schools should make arrangements for any interpreting facilities to be made available where necessary.
If an investigation of the complaint is appropriate, the Head teacher (or Deputy, if the complaint is against the Headteacher) should take reasonable steps to interview those involved and any witnesses, preferably recording responses in question and answer format, which should be signed as agreed. If the complaint involves a pupil, or pupils, those identified either by the complainant, or by school, should be interviewed by members of the school staff only. Under no circumstances should any complainant be allowed to approach pupils on school premises in order to question them. Pupils should preferably be interviewed with another member of staff present and in the case of a more serious complaint, in the presence of their parents.
Schools should maintain written records of interviews, telephone conversations, and other documentation in order that they can be made available during any formal hearing, etc, at a later date.
Once all the relevant facts have been established, a written response to the complainant should be made within 15 school days. Alternatively, a meeting with the complainant could be arranged to discuss / resolve the matter directly. In this case a written record of the meeting should be sent to the complainant.
A written response should include a full explanation of any decisions taken and the reasons for them. Where appropriate, this should include details of the actions the school will take to resolve the complaint and any other issues raised.
STAGE 3: GUIDELINES FOR A COMMITTEE OF GOVERNORS DEALING WITH COMPLAINTS
Where a complainant remains dissatisfied with the initial decision s/he must notify the Headteacher, LA or Chair of Governors, within a maximum of 15 school days of receipt of the response letter. The party concerned must then notify the Clerk to the Governing Body so that the Governing Body can deal with the complaint and review action already taken. It is important to check that the complaint is still of a general nature and not covered by other existing procedures.
The Clerk to the Governors should write to the complainant to acknowledge the request for a Stage 3 review. The letter should also explain that the complainant has the right to submit any further documents and / or information, relevant to the complaint. These should be made available as soon as possible to enable circulation to members of the committee at least 5 days prior to the Hearing.
The Clerk to the Governors should arrange to convene the Complaints Committee, elected from members of the Governing Body (excluding Associate Members), and a Chair and Vice Chair should be agreed. It may be necessary for the Governing Body to appoint reserves to this Committee to ensure that three governors are available at any one time to carry out their task within the set timescale.
The Committee of the Governing Body should set a date for the hearing and the Clerk should communicate this to the complainant.
The members of the Complaints Committee should be governors who have had no prior involvement with the complaint.
The Chair should ensure that the complaint is heard by the Committee within a maximum of 20 school days of receiving the letter.
Within 5 days of receipt of the letter, the Clerk should write and inform the complainant, Headteacher, any relevant witnesses, and members of the Committee of the date, time and place of the meeting. The notification to the complainant should also inform him / her of the right to be accompanied to the meeting by a friend / interpreter. The letter should also explain how the meeting would be conducted and the complainant’s right to submit further written evidence to the Committee, to be returned in sufficient time to enable it to be circulated to all parties at least 5 days prior to the hearing.
The Clerk should also invite the Headteacher to prepare a written report for the Committee in response to the complaint. All concerned should receive any relevant documents including the Headteacher’s report and any witness statements taken by the Headteacher at least 5 school days prior to the meeting.
It is the responsibility of the Chair of the Committee to ensure that notes of the meeting are taken by someone not previously involved in the resolution of the complaint, nor by any member of the Committee. These can be used by the Committee in the formulation of it’s report.
The aim of the meeting should be to resolve the complaint and achieve reconciliation between the school and the complainant. However, it has to be recognised that sometimes it may only be possible to establish facts and make recommendations, which will satisfy the complainant that his or her complaint has been taken seriously.
The Committee should remember that many complainants are unused to dealing with groups of people in formal situations and may feel inhibited when speaking to the Committee. It is therefore recommended that the Chair of the Committee ensure that the proceedings are as informal as possible.
Only in exceptional circumstances should any party introduce previously undisclosed information or witnesses. It may be in the interests of natural justice to adjourn the meeting so that all parties have time to consider and respond to any new information. The committee should also consider whether the additional material is appropriate to the case under consideration and not relating to matters other than the complainants original concern.
The meeting should allow for: –
The complainant to detail their complaint, and the Headteacher to explain the school’s response;
The Headteacher to question the complainant about the complaint and the complainant to question the Headteacher about the school’s response;
Members of the committee to have an opportunity to question both the complainant and the Headteacher.
Any party should have the right to call witnesses in support of their case (subject to the approval of the Chair), and all parties having the right to question all of the witnesses
The complainant and then the Headteacher should then be given an opportunity to finalise their case. The Chairperson should seek from the complainant, a summary of the points s/he would like the committee to consider, and what they would see as being an acceptable outcome.
The Chair of the Committee should explain to the complainant and the Headteacher at the end of the hearing that the Committee will consider its decision, and a written response will be sent to both parties within a maximum of 15 school days. The complainant and the Headteacher should then leave. The Committee reserves the right at this point to seek further information, including discussions with members of staff, to help with the decision making process.
The Committee should then consider the complaint and all the evidence presented and
- Reach a unanimous, or at least a majority, decision on the complaint;
- Decide upon the appropriate action to be taken to resolve the complain, and
- Where appropriate, suggest recommended changes to the school’s systems or procedures to ensure that problems of a similar nature do not occur again.The Committee must ensure that a written statement signed by the Chairperson, is produced, outlining the decision(s) of the Committee and the basis on which those decision(s) were made. This must be sent to the complainant and Headteacher within 15 school days.The Chair should ensure that parents are aware that they can complain to the LA, and the process involved, if they are unhappy with the outcome of the procedure.The school should ensure that a copy of all correspondence and notes are kept on file in the school’s records.Stage 4: The LA Formal Complaints Process Withdrawal of ComplaintsFormal complaints may be withdrawn at any stage by notice in writing. Where no complaint is officially withdrawn, it will be within the jurisdiction of the committee to decide whether they wish to proceed with the complaint.Complaints concerning the teacher/s with responsibility for investigating complaints In the case of a complaint against a governor, it must be put in writing to the Chair of Governors who, in liaison with the Headteacher and LA Officer should investigate and respond within 15 school days. The complainant can appeal in writing, against this decision, within 15 school days, to the LA Officer. Meetings will be arranged with the complainant, the governor concerned and the Chair of Governors, separately and the complainant responded to within 15 school days of the date of the last meeting.Complaints concerning the Headteacher or Chair of Governors Governing Bodies shall establish such procedures, as they feel appropriate, for dealing with complaints from members of the Governing Body and pupils.Complaint letter from a solicitor Complaints Procedure A register of all formal complaints from Stage 3 onwards will be kept by the LA for any school that has taken advantage of this particular element of the Service Level Agreement. Other schools should consider how this register is to be kept and maintained. The register should include the following:
- Complaints Register
- A copy of the complaints procedure should be sent to the LA.
- This should be publicised in the school prospectus and made widely known to parents e.g. during induction meetings of new pupils.
- Should the school or the Chair of Governors receive a letter from a solicitor relating to a complaint / claim, then the school should contact the Schools Management Service who will assist the school in any response.
- Complaints by members of the Governing Body and Pupils
- In the case of Voluntary Aided Schools, this may require the notification / involvement of the Diocesan Authority.
- Where a complaint is received in writing concerning a Headteacher or Chair of Governors, The LA should be notified as soon as possible. The appropriate LA Officer, in liaison with either the Headteacher, or Chairperson will discuss the details of the complaint and seek an appropriate resolution.
- Complaints concerning the Headteacher, a Governor or the Governing Body
- The Headteacher may either designate another member of staff to act as the teacher with responsibility for investigating the complaint, or s/he may decide to deal with the complaint.
- Where a complaint concerns in whole, or part, the conduct of the teacher responsible for investigating complaints, the teacher should, on receipt of the formal complaint, immediately refer the matter to the Headteacher.
- Once these meetings have taken place, allowing for time for deliberation, the LA will respond to the complainant within 20 school days from the date of the last meeting. Should they still remain dissatisfied, they will be notified that they have a right of appeal to the secretary Of State.
- Should the complainant be dissatisfied with the complaints review hearing, they should inform the LA of their wish to evoke stage 4 of the complaints process, within 15 school days of the receipt of the decision of the complaints committee. Complainants should identify what they remain dissatisfied at and / or, if they feel that part or all of the process, was flawed. On receiving this notification the LA should acknowledge its receipt within 5 school days and seek to arrange meetings with the complainant, Headteacher and Chair of the committee, separately and at the earliest opportunity.
- This part of the complaints procedure dwells not on the nature of the complaint, but in the appropriateness of the processes involved, and the complainant’s access to it.
- Name and address of the complainant;
- The date of the complaint;
- A brief description of the complaint;
- All correspondence;
- The outcome of the complaint.
Stages 1 and 2 Complaints
Date complaint referred to Headteacher:
Date complaint acknowledged orally/by letter,
School’s complaint procedure forwarded: YES/NO
Target date for response:
General nature of complaint:
Date of meeting with complainant:
Statements attached: YES/NO
Pupils interviewed in presence of:
Records of correspondence/telephone calls etc. attached: YES/NO
Date of notification of decision to complainant _______
Written response attached: YES/NO
Date complaint referred to Governing Body,
The Committee has the power to make decisions on behalf of the Governing Body and may
- Uphold the complaint;
- Uphold it in part, or;
- Dismiss itWhere the issue is under consideration does not fall within the remit of the Committee, the members may still wish to make recommendations. A Complaints Committee, Chair and Vice-Chair, and reserve members should be appointed at the Governing Body meeting in the Autumn Term. The composition of the Committee should be considered carefully. Dealing with any complaints that reach this stage is likely to be challenging but careful planning early on can avoid unnecessary complications. Consider the following:Membership The Clerk should draw up the agenda and make all the necessary arrangements for the meeting.COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE MEETINGBefore a meeting The tone of the meeting is often set by what happens when the complainant first arrives. The model agenda is attached – Annex B. The same rules apply as for other Committee meetings of governors. For example, governors are not bound to accept tabled papers and may adjourn if they feel that they need time to consider an unexpected issue, including procedural issues.During the meeting
- As a rule, parents represent their children at all meetings within the complaints process. However, if a parent specifically requests the attendance of their child (ren) at any meeting, the committee should satisfy itself of the following:
- At the discretion of the Chair, witnesses should be invited to join the meeting when their input is required and to leave immediately afterwards
- The complainant (with their friend / interpreter) and the Headteacher, should be invited in and asked to leave together.
- Convey to all concerned that as Chair, you are acting impartially by treating all participants equally.
- Take control of the meeting with confidence; use their judgement to move the meeting on when necessary and aim towards a resolution by coming to a conclusion on the written and oral evidence presented at the meeting.
- The meeting
- What route will the complainant and school representatives take to the meeting room?
- How will the meeting room be arranged (Small informal arrangements are usually best)?
- Where will the meeting take place?
- Will there be any refreshments provided?
- Where will other people wait (Separate places for complainants and school representatives may be advisable)?
- Will anyone wait with them?
- Who will greet participants when they arrive?
- What time will participants be asked to arrive?
- Therefore it is worth the Chair considering the following: –
- Practical arrangements
- A copy of the agenda, the complaint, and any written response from the complainant and Headteacher, should be sent to members of the Complaints Committee at least five school days before the meeting. Each member must read the papers to check that they have no significant involvement with the case under consideration, but should not discuss it with anyone else. If they need to withdraw from the Committee they should notify the Clerk who would organise a substitute. It is essential to withdraw at this stage so that an appointed reserve member can be arranged.
- Clerk to the Governors
- It is suggested that three governors (excluding the Headteacher) form the Complaints Committee. Substitutes should be appointed to take the place of any Committee member who might be unavailable. The minutes of the Autumn Term governors’ meeting should state the membership, Chair, Vice-Chair and reserve members. All members should be Governors.
- Whoever is appointed should be prepared to attend a meeting at reasonably short notice.
- The most important point to remember is that any members of the Complaints Committee should not have had previous significant involvement with the complaint under review.
- The child / pupil has sufficient understanding of the process;
- The child by it’s presence does not gain any confidential information disclosed by, or about pupils and staff;
- The pupil’s presence is felt to be advantageous to the outcome of the meeting;
- The information exchanged in the pupil’s presence, and the nature of that exchange, would not lead to any diminishment in the relationship between the pupil and staff involved, and;
- That any written statement given by the pupil prior to the meeting should be the focus of discussion and negate any further exchange.Having ascertained the names of all those waiting outside the meeting room, start the meeting by agreeing with the Committee who should be invited in to speak to the Committee and in what order. At no time should the complainant, Headteacher or a witness be able to talk to Committee members without both the complainant and Headteacher being present. These arrangements may have to be modified if one or more of the parties absent themselves from the meeting.If witnesses are waiting, the Chair should try to ensure that they are called in due course if needed, or advised as early as possible, that their testament will not be required.Once the main participants have joined the meeting, explain the proceedings.Begin to hear the complaint being firm about keeping to the agenda and reminding participants as necessary about the procedure, e.g. if interruptions occur.Bearing mind that all participants may be under stress, be even-handed in the treatment of all participants.Explaining the proceedings It is important that all the participants feel that they have had every opportunity to be heard but if they are beginning to repeat themselves at the, “further questions or points” stage, move the meeting on by proceeding to the summing up. The complainant and headteacher should then be invited to sum up if they wish but if the issues are clear, formal summing up may not be appropriate.Confirm the arrangements for the participants to receive the decision of the meeting.Write down the decision of the Committee so this can be accurately recorded in the report / letter to the complainant.The decision letter and report If you have a concern or complaintWe would like you to tell us about it. We welcome suggestions for improving our work in the school. Be assured that no matter what you want to tell us, our support and respect for you and your child will not be affected in any way. Please tell us of your concern as soon as possible. It is difficult for us to investigate properly any incident or problem, which has happened some time ago.What to do firstIf primary school:Most concerns can be sorted out quickly by speaking with your child’s class teacher.If secondary school:Most concerns can be sorted out quickly by speaking with your child’s form tutor or head of year. Any teacher or member of the office staff can help you find the right member of staff. If you have a concern, which you feel should be looked at by the Headteacher in the first instance, you could contact him / her straightaway if you prefer. It is usually best to discuss the problem face to face. You may need an appointment to do this, and can make one by contacting the school office. You can take a friend or relation to the appointment with you if you would like to so that they can support you.All staff will make every effort to resolve your problem informally. They will make sure that they understand what you feel went wrong, and they will explain their own actions to you. They will ask what you would like the school to do to put things right. Of course, this does not mean that in every case they will come round to your point of view but it will help both you and the school to understand both sides of the question. It may also help to prevent a similar problem arising again.What to do next The problem will normally be resolved by this stage. However, if you are still not satisfied you may wish to contact the Chair of the Governing Body to ask for referral of your complaint to the Complaints Committee of the Governing Body. It will then be heard by a group of three governors who have no significant prior knowledge of the problem and so will be able to give it a fresh assessment. You will be invited to attend and speak to the Committee at a meeting, which the Headteacher will also attend. The General Complaints Procedure statement explains how these meetings operate.Further action
- Complaints about school problems are almost always settled within schools but in exceptional cases it may be possible to refer the problem to the LA, the Ombudsman or the Secretary of State. Again there is more information on this in the General Complaints Procedure.
- If you are still unhappy
- You may also find it helpful at this stage to have a copy of the full statement of the General Complaints Procedure as this explains in detail what procedures are followed. This is available from the school office.
- If your complaint is about an action of the Headteacher personally, then you should refer it to the Chair of Governors or LA. You can contact him / her through the school or via the Education Services at Stockport Town Hall.
- If you are dissatisfied with the teacher’s response (or with the Headteacher’s initial reaction if s/he has already been involved) you can make a complaint to the Headteacher. This should be made in writing.
- SUGGESTED GUIDANCE NOTES FOR PARENTS
- CONCERNS AND COMPLAINTS ABOUT SCHOOLS
- ANNEX A
- All members of the committee should receive a copy of the report
- It is usual for all documents relating to a complaint to be kept confidential.
- The report should record the procedure followed, the decision reached and any recommendations made.
- The Clerk / LA Officer should take notes of the meeting which will be used by the committee in the compilation of their report
- The Clerk to the Complaints Committee should send a copy of the decision letter to the complainant, Headteacher and Chair of Governors.
- Concluding the discussion
- Indicate any time limits to adhere to.
- Explain that the complainant can speak without interruption and then, allow the Headteacher and members of the Committee to ask any questions to clarify any issues raised, the Headteacher’s response will then be heard, again without interruption. There should be an opportunity for the Committee and the complainant to ask any questions about what has been said and so on.
- If the complaint is complex and there are some aspects of it that fall outside the Committee’s remit, clarify this and explain exactly which aspects of the complaint can be addressed by the Committee; later, advise the complainant as to how best to follow up any part of the complaint that could not be dealt with by the Committee. Alternatively, the Committee may wish to consider making representations to the responsible authority for those areas that fall outside its remit.
- Run down the items briefly and let the participants know if they will be able to hear the decision at the end of the meeting. Make it clear that although the meeting will be as informal as possible, it is intended to keep to the agenda to allow everyone to have a fair hearing.
- Explain that the agenda will be followed.
- Introduce the people round the table
FORMAL COMPLAINT TO A SCHOOL’S GOVERNING BODY:
- To confirm the order of the procedure.
- To agree whether the decision should be conveyed orally to all parties at the end of the meeting (as well as in writing afterwards).
- Invitation to complainant (with friend / interpreter) and Headteacher to join meeting and introduction to governors.
- Introduction and explanation of procedure.
- To note the role of the Clerk / LA Officer at the meeting.
- Complainant’s presentation and witnesses and questions to both by Headteacher and / or governors.
- Headteacher’s response and witnesses and questions to both by complainant and / or governors.
- Any further questions or points from any of the parties.
- Opportunity for summing up by complainant.
- Opportunity for summing up by Headteacher.
- Summing up by the Chair.
- Complainant and Headteacher leave meeting.
- To decide on the complaint. The Committee can: –
- Uphold the complaint in full
- Uphold it in part, or
- Dismiss it.
- To consider whether and how to refer issues of principle or general practice to another forum, such as the Governing Body, or to an individual such as the Headteacher.
- To inform the complainant and the Headteacher of the Governing Body’s decision and further rights of representation (if agreed at 3 above).
- To remind all concerned that any information exchanged is of a confidential nature and, therefore, should not be shared outside the meeting.