How should a governor deal with a parental complaint?

9 Dec

Governors have the responsibility of drawing up a policy for dealing with parental complaints that are not concerned with admissions, exclusions and special educational needs, which are the subjects of separate statutory arrangements.  The policy should be simple, transparent and displayed on the school website.

There is a hierarchy for dealing with grumbles.

  1. School staff and the headteacher handle criticism and concerns informally, in the first instance, when they are not formal complaints.
  2. Formal complaints are made in writing and may be complemented or clarified with oral presentations.
  3. A formal complaint must be investigated and handled as swiftly as possible and the complainant kept fully informed throughout all stages of the investigation, preferably in writing.
  4. Each complainant should receive a formal response in writing once the investigation is complete.
  5. If, in the course of an investigation, the governing body considers that disciplinary action should be taken against a member of staff, disciplinary proceedings must be initiated.

There are three stages for dealing with a complaint.  Where a parent or member of the public has a complaint, it can best be resolved through informal discussion with the member of staff or the headteacher, which is the first stage.  A preliminary discussion, more often than not, resolves the problem.   A complaint that is not resolved by a staff member is then referred to the headteacher. The resolution should take no more than five school days.

Where a complaint has not been resolved at Stage 1 – the informal one – the complainant will be directed to the chairperson of the governing body at Stage 2.  The chairperson will offer the complainant the opportunity to make her/his case in writing by completing a form which could be attached to the policy.  The chairperson then presents the complaint to the headteacher and invites her/him to respond.  On the basis of the response and any further investigations, the chairperson determines whether the school is culpable and suggests remedies to repair any damage caused with the parent.   The chairperson should complete the exercise within 10 school days.

Where a complainant is still dissatisfied with the outcome, she/he will be invited to set out the problems for the attention of the governing body – for the attention of the clerk, so that it may be considered by a panel of three disinterested governors.   It could be possible the complaint may be different from the original one, as it could include dissatisfaction with the action taken by the headteacher and/or chair of governors in handling the original perceived problem.

The panel of governors is appointed by the full governing body and none of them would have had anything to do previously with handling of the complaint.   It should convene within 15 school days of receipt of the complaint or as soon after as practicable.  Written evidence should be circulated to both parties and the members of the panel in advance of the meeting.  At the meeting, each side should be given the opportunity of putting the case and being questioned by the other side and members of the panel.   The parent should be given the opportunity of going first.  At the end, each side summarises, with the parent have the final word.

Prior to both parties withdrawing from the meeting, the chairperson asks them whether they thought the hearing was full and fair.  If either party felt it wasn’t, the perceived unfairness should be described and if justified, the panel of governors should take measures to put matters right before discussing and deciding whether or not to uphold the complaint.

When both parties withdraw, the panel discusses all the evidence presented.  It then decides whether the complaint was justified and proposes remedies which must be implemented.  The outcome must be disclosed to both sides within five school days.  Where the members of the panel find no grounds for the complaint, the parent has the option of referring the matter to the Secretary of State for Education.

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