Monday, 14 March 2016

How to Complain about Your Child's School

School railings with title overlaidComplaining is never easy, but schools can be particularly tricky, for a number of reasons. It's not something many people ever have to do and it's not really talked about, so it can be a a scary prospect. Some feel intimidated by schools in general, probably stemming back to their own school days! However, you have a right to take an active role in the care and education of your child and if you feel that child's needs are not being met, you may need to consider your options. As an ex-School Governor, I have outlined the steps you can take to resolve a dispute you may have with your school and hopefully reach a solution that benefits everyone. 

Firstly NAFOFF. Not being rude, it stands for Never Assume, Find Out Facts First. It's a useful mantra for most situations, but is particularly relevant here, as communication can be a minefield with schools. Sometimes children exaggerate, misunderstand, don't listen properly. etc. Teachers, also, are busy, occasionally distracted, or simply not aware that it's an issue. In a class of up to 30 children, it's not always easy to know everything about every child. Be fair. Could it be a misunderstanding? Teachers are people too, so try not to be intimidated. It's worth remembering that you both have your child's best interests at heart, even if you go about it differently. If something is bothering you, speak to your child's teacher. It's a good place to start, because often, once they are aware of the issue, they will be happy to help, or put things right and it can save things escalating further. Complaints can leave a lasting bad taste all round and make things uncomfortable for everyone, so it's always best to take the peaceful option if you can. Be prepared to compromise if at all possible, taking into account the fact that the school has to consider the needs of all of its pupils as well as yours. Also, if you do need to take things further in the future, approaching the teacher is often the first step in the process anyway, so you would need to have that conversation before you could progress the complaint. 

Outdoor planter containing flowering daffodils

Keep your anger in check. If you want to be taken seriously, it's important to keep the school's respect, so swearing or yelling are not going to work. The school will still have to fulfill their obligations, but it's better to keep things civil and peaceful, to get the best resolution.  By approaching the situation calmly and constructively, it saves a lot of time and avoids things being said that aren't helpful and just make everyone frustrated and angry. Also, you will probably want your child to remain at the school and that could mean many years of liasing with the same teaching staff, so avoiding making things awkward is a wise move. You are on the same side. The school has nothing to gain from not trying to work with you, so count to ten before diving off the deep end and potentially making it worse. 

If speaking to the teacher doesn't work and you still don't feel satisfied that the issue is resolved, the next step is to find out what the school's complaint procedure is. Schools have policies for pretty much everything and complaints are no exception. You can often find the Complaints Policy on their website, or ask to see a copy. It will include who you can complain to, and what to do if you are not satisfied. Read it carefully and follow the steps. It is written for everyone's benefit, so that the process is fair to all parties. Sometimes, complaints are made that aren't always fair to the staff and it's important to protect them too. Like most employees, school staff are subject to appraisals and assessments to further their careers and it would be very unfair for that process to be damaged, due to an unfounded complaint or accusation. 

Flatlay of child writing with pencil

The second stage of a complaint is often to speak to the head. At this stage, it's a good idea to put something in writing. That way, they know you are serious and are prepared to take it further, and it will give you a record of when you complained and exactly what you said. It also gives you an opportunity to think very carefully about exactly what your complaint is and, more importantly, what you would like the resolution to be. It's vital to be realistic about an appropriate outcome for your complaint. For example, if you believe a teacher or other staff member has punished your child in a way that you don't think is acceptable, it is unrealistic to expect the teacher to face serious sanctions such as sacking. The point of complaining is to resolve the situation, not to attempt to destroy someone's career, however much they may rub you up the wrong way. Do your research. In this example, you could ask to see the school's policy on discipline or behaviour and see what the school feels is acceptable. If you don't agree, you could ask for the policy to be reviewed, although they don't have to agree to this. If you feel the teacher has acted outside of the guidelines within the policy, perhaps ask for some training or development for staff to ensure they are all aware of the boundaries for behaviour and discipline. This approach can be applied to a lot of complaints; find out the school's policy first, then see how it fits with the situation you are unhappy with. By doing this, you are more likely to get what you want, because you are working with the school, not against them.  Most complaints stop here, and that's good news all round. You've let them know you will stand up if they get things wrong and you know that they will listen when you are not happy. It's a win-win. 

Hopscotch markings on playground

Rarely, though, it just isn't working. The complaint could be more serious, or you just feel they are not budging when they should be. So, you move onto the next stage of the process, which will usually involve the Governors. Governors are normal people, like me. They often have children at the school and are very good at seeing things from both sides. They are neutral and the headteacher is answerable to them if things go wrong. They can review how your complaint was handled, usually as a panel of three or four governors, and will ensure that the school is meeting its requirements. Try to give as much detail as possible and be as specific as you can about how you feel the school has gone wrong. 

Green school gates

Finally, if the complaint is still unresolved, you can complain to the Department for Education, if you feel the school and the Governing Body have not acted reasonably. You will need to show that you have followed the school's complaints procedure first. More information is available on the Gov.UK website. If your complaint is about the running of the school in general, you can complain to Ofsted and request the school is inspected. They do not deal with individual students though, only the school as a whole. It is very unlikely that these stages will be reached though, as no one wants this. The school is there for its pupils. They want the best for them, so they will want to help and get things sorted long before it gets to this stage. Just remember to be clear about what you are unhappy with and what you would like to see changed. Keep your objective in mind and write everything down. Don't be intimidated and remember; you have every right to be involved in your child's care and education, never be afraid to ask questions. 

Read my last post about education here; The Best of World Book Day

A step by step guide to complaining effectively when your school gets something wrong.


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