Complaints usually arise when a parent or carer is unhappy with the way a young person has been treated, or with the way they have been treated by the school. The person making the complaint (the complainant) will usually talk to the member of staff or come to school to discuss the matter. If this happens, this is the process we should go through:
It is in everyone’s interest that complaints are resolved at the earliest possible stage. The experience of the first contact between the complainant and the school can be crucial in determining whether the complaint will escalate. All staff need to know the procedures that follow, and the part that they may play in them.
Complaint Heard by Staff Member:
It is important that we respect the views of complainants who tell us that he or she would have difficulty discussing a complaint with a particular member of staff. In these cases, the member of staff can refer the complainant to another staff member. Where the complaint concerns the Head Teacher, the complainant should be referred to the Chair of Governors.
Similarly, if a member of staff directly involved feels too compromised to deal with a complaint, he or she may consider referring the complainant to another staff member. That member of staff may be more senior but does not have to be. They must be someone who is able to consider the complaint objectively and impartially.
If the first approach is made to a Governor, the next step is to refer the complainant to the appropriate person and advise them about the procedure. It would be useful if Governors did not act unilaterally on an individual complaint outside the formal procedure or be involved at the early stages in case they are needed to sit on a panel at a later stage of the procedure.
Complaint heard by Head Teacher:
The Head Teacher’s influence will already have shaped the way complaints are handled in the school. At this point, the complainant may be dissatisfied with the way the complaint was handled at stage one as well as pursuing their initial complaint. The Head Teacher may delegate the task of collating the information to another staff member but not the decision on the action to be taken.
Complaint heard by Governing Bodies Complaints Appeal Panel:
If the complainant chooses to take his or her complaint to the Governing Body, he or she needs to write to the Chair of Governors giving details of the complaint. The Chair, or nominated Governor, will convene a Governing Body Complaints Panel.
The Governors’ Appeal Hearing is the last school-based stage of the complaints process. It is a decision-making body, not one which is convened merely to rubber-stamp previous decisions. Individual complaints would not be heard by the whole Governing Body at any stage, as this could compromise the impartiality of any panel set up for a disciplinary hearing against a member of staff following a serious complaint.
The Governing Body may nominate a number of members with delegated powers to hear complaints at that stage, and set out its terms of reference. These can include drawing up its procedures, hearing individual appeals or making recommendations on policy as a result of complaints.
The procedure adopted by the Panel for hearing appeals would normally be part of the school’s Complaints Procedure. The Panel can be drawn from the nominated members and may consist of three or five people, choosing their own Chair.
The Role of the Complaints Appeal Panel:
The Panel can:
• dismiss the complaint in whole or in part;
• uphold the complaint in whole or in part;
• decide on the appropriate action to be taken to resolve the complaint;
• recommend changes to the school’s systems or procedures to ensure that problems of a similar nature do not recur. Governors on a Complaints Panel should remember that:
It is important that the Appeal Hearing is independent and impartial and that it is seen to be so. No Governor may sit on the Panel if they have had a prior involvement in the complaint or in the circumstances surrounding it. In deciding the make-up of the Panel, Governors need to try and ensure that it is a cross-section of the categories of Governor and sensitive to issues of race, gender and religious affiliation.
The aim of the hearing, which needs to be held in private, will always be to resolve the complaint and achieve reconciliation between the school and the complainant. However, it has to be recognised that the complainant might not be satisfied with the outcome if the hearing does not find in their favour. It may only be possible to establish the facts and make recommendations which will satisfy the complainant that his or her complaint has been taken seriously.
An effective Panel will acknowledge that many complainants feel nervous and inhibited in a formal setting. Parents often feel emotional when discussing an issue that affects their child. The Panel Chair will ensure that the proceedings are as welcoming as possible. The layout of the room will set the tone and care is needed to ensure the setting is informal and not adversarial.
Extra care needs to be taken when the complainant is a child. Careful consideration of the atmosphere and proceedings will ensure that the child does not feel intimidated. The Panel needs to be aware of the views of the child and give them equal consideration to those of adults. Where the child’s parent is the complainant, it would be helpful to give the parent the opportunity to say which parts of the hearing, if any, the child needs to attend. The Governors sitting on the Panel need to be aware of the complaints procedure.
ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES The Role of the Clerk:
The Complaints Committee must be clerked. The clerk is to be the contact point for the complainant and will:
- Set the date, time and venue of the hearing, ensuring that the dates are convenient to all parties and that the venue and proceedings are accessible;
- Collate any written material and send it to the parties in advance of the hearing;
- Meet and welcome the parties as they arrive at the hearing;
- Record the proceedings;
- Notify all parties of the Panel’s decision.
The Role of the Chair of the Governing Body or the Nominated Governor:
The nominated Governor role:
• Check that the correct procedure has been followed;
• If a Hearing is appropriate, notify the clerk to arrange the Panel.
The Role of the Chair of the Panel:
The Chair of the Panel has a key role, ensuring that:
- The remit of the panel is explained to the parties and each party has the opportunity of putting their case without undue interruption;
- The issues are addressed;
- Key findings of facts are made;
- Parents and others who may not be used to speaking at such a Hearing are put at ease;
- The Hearing is conducted in an informal manner with each party treating the other with respect and courtesy;
- The Panel is open minded and acting independently;
- No member of the Panel has a vested interest in the outcome of the proceedings or any involvement in an earlier stage of the procedure;
- Each side is given the opportunity to state their case and ask questions;
- Written material to be seen by all parties. If a new issue arises it would be useful to give all parties the opportunity to consider and comment on it.
Notification of the Panel’s Decision:
The Chair of the Panel needs to ensure that the complainant is notified of the Panel’s decision, in writing, with the Panel’s response within 5 working days. The letter will explain if there are any further rights of appeal and, if so, to whom they need to be addressed.
Checklist for a Complaints Committee Hearing:
The Panel needs to take the following points into account:
- The Hearing is as informal as possible.
- Witnesses are only required to attend for the part of the Hearing in which they give their evidence.
- After introductions, the complainant is invited to explain their complaint, and be followed by their witnesses.
- The Headteacher may question both the complainant and the witnesses after each has spoken.
- The Headteacher is then invited to explain the school’s actions and be followed by the school’s witnesses.
- The complainant may question both the Headteacher and the witnesses after each has spoken.
- The Panel may ask questions at any point.
- The complainant is then invited to sum up their complaint.
- The Headteacher is then invited to sum up the school’s actions and response to the complaint.
- Both parties leave together while the panel decides on the issues.
- The Chair explains that both parties will hear from the Panel within a set timescale.
DISSATISFACTION WITH THE OUTCOME OF A COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE HEARING
Should the complainant be dissatisfied with the decision taken by a Governors Complaints Committee Hearing, the complainant should take the complaint to:
The Chair of Governors,