Why was Jimmy allowed in the playground at that time? Why wasn’t he in the lunch hall?

Why was Jimmy allowed in the playground at that time? Why wasn’t he in the lunch hall?

Sound familiar? Dealing with complaints, or concerns as some like to call them, are a necessary part of school life. Complaints can take a huge amount of time and staff resource away from daily school life − it is arguable if the time taken away from teaching children is proportionate to the complaint made. However they need to be taken seriously and sometimes lessons need to be learnt.

The DfE have recently released new guidance regarding Academies and Free Schools and the requirement to have a complaints policy in accordance with the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2014. Similar guidance exists for maintained schools.

Complaints could be anything from teacher’s attitudes, to failure to follow procedures to under supervision of Jimmy in his Forest School lesson, when he is playing with that marshmallow on a stick.

Some parents are unsure where to turn if they have a concern or are angry about something at the school therefore it is very important to make it clear within school where to find this information and to have it clearly displayed on the school’s website. Often schools have generalised leaflets regarding how to raise a concern which makes the process accessible for all and then they move onto the more formal complaints policy if needed.

Within the recently published guidance there are the obvious complaints procedures requirements such as the complaints procedures must be in writing, made available to parents and set out clear timescales. Nothing unusual here. The procedure must consist of 3 stages; informal, formal and a panel hearing. If the complaint progresses to a final panel hearing the school must allow the parent to attend (again an expected requirement) and be accompanied if they wish and the school must also ensure that at least one member of the panel is independent of the management and running of the academy, this is slightly more tricky. All governors at the school would not be independent of the management and running of the academy as that is what they are there to do…. So where does a school find a suitable independent individual who wants to take on the responsibility? Perhaps another local governing body….

Some complaints cannot be dealt with at that panel hearing so what happens when the complaints process at the school has been exhausted? 

The EFA/DfE can support. However their scope is narrow as they look at delay, compliance with complaints procedures, breaches of funding agreements in the case of Academies and compliance with other legal obligations i.e. compliance with the Admissions Code. They do not overturn complaints but can request that the complaint is looked at again and instruct the school to make sure that procedures are put right.

A complaint can also be made to Ofsted if the schools complaints process has been exhausted. Ofsted don’t usually investigate individual complaints and only really focus on complaints which affect the whole school such as the management of school resources.

The recently released guidance doesn’t appear to be anything particularly new and it is likely most schools would be following similar principals anyway. The best thing to do is to make sure you have a watertight complaints policy and you follow it to the tee. If you are in the unfortunate position where a complaint is escalated through the stages you will then have the backbone and procedures in place to deal with it in the most efficient way.

For more information please contact Jade Kent, Solicitor in the Education team on jade.kent@michelmores.com or 01392 687523