Knowledge Bank - Leadership

Complaints procedures

I understand the complaints procedure for parents is changing. Should we change our school policy?

There are changes being proposed. Firstly through The Education Bill 2011. The Bill continues to emphasise the importance of complaints being sorted out at a school level. However it proposes that where this isn’t possible, complaints should not be taken to the Local Government Ombudsman LGO but the Secretary of State instead.  It is proposed that the Secretary of State can be approached directly and will be in a position to intervene if necessary. 

In relation to admissions, the Bill proposes that parents will be able to refer an objection about admissions arrangements, and this includes Academies, to the Schools Adjudicator. However, according to the Bill, the Schools Adjudicator will have less power to require an admission authority to look at its entire policy and will not be able to order a change even though they might be able to investigate a specific allegation. 

It is also being proposed that there will be no requirement for local authorities to establish an Admission Forum for the area although they can have one voluntarily if the local area finds it to be useful. The Bill proposes to change the way in which complaints about an individual teacher might be handled. There will be greater anonymity for teachers when pupils make allegations against them. 

Secondly, there are proposed changes around complaints about SEN provision. The Green Paper ‘Support and Aspiration: a New Approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability’ recommends that disagreements about special educational needs provision should be mediated first before being taken to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Panel’s tribunal. 

In relation to your school, it is important that you have a clear complaints procedure in place. This is required as part of the Education Act 2002. Your procedure must be publicised and accessible to parents. As a minimum your procedure should contain details about what happens at the different stages:

  • Stage 1: informal – dealt with in school through classteacher or subject leader   
  • Stage 2: formal – still in school but with the complaint put in writing for the headteacher
  • Stage 3: formal complaint to the governing body 

The timing of each stage must be included and there should be clear instructions for parents. You might also want to indicate what steps parents can take if they remain dissatisfied following their application to the governing body. In some cases the next stage will be referral to the Local Authority or Local Government Ombudsmen. Increasingly for schools such as academies it will be expected that complaints will go straight to the Secretary of State. There are plenty of useful examples of school complaints procedures available on the internet. Many Local Authority’s have also produced a significant amount of guidance. 

So, in short, don’t change your policy yet. However, you might give it a cursory review and ensure that it reflects school practice and understanding. Even when legislation passes through Parliament it is unlikely that there will be any need for a major change in its contents and your internal practice should remain unaffected. 

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