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Ten Top Tips for Handling Complaints and Concerns in School

Handling Concerns and Complaints – Ten Top Tips

What is the culture or ethos surrounding concerns complaints in your school(s)? How do Governors view the airing of concerns and complaints? Of course, by the time a complaint reaches Governors it is usually treated seriously and there will be clear procedures to follow, but, complaints can sometimes be treated as unwelcome events, interruptions to the norm, a nuisance. A more enlightened approach can see concerns and complaints as an important and natural opportunity for school improvement.  Logging concerns and complaints near the point of origin can help to identify issues which can be addressed quickly and easily through small changes and preventative actions. In this way concerns and complaints can contribute to the bigger school improvement picture. Is there a system in place for recording concerns and complaints, and for reviewing these periodically?

Of course, we would all wish to avoid complaints, but they very often arise from a simple breakdown in communication, or a feeling that no-one is listening. Good schools have clearly defined communication pathways which specify how parents can communicate with the school about different issues. For instance, there might be different approaches for the who, how and when stakeholders should contact the school regarding concerns about classroom-based procedures, or discipline / bullying, or school sports or educational visits for instance.

Dealing with concerns and complaints is part of the day-to-day reality of running a school. It involves staff and governors in various ways and at a number of levels. It can be a time consuming and sometimes even stressful time for Governors, staff, and parents / carers, so it’s wise to try to address concerns before they turn into complaints.

Here are my Ten Top Tips for handling concerns and complaints:-

Avoid complaints – have different communication pathways  for different concerns, try to ensure that concerns don’t become complaints

  1. Make sure you have a clear policy and procedure for dealing with concerns and complaints, and make sure the policy is implemented
  2. Use Mediation wherever possible often the missing stage in complaints procedures
  3. Make sure the Procedure is readily available – on the school website
  4. Handling official complaints – investigation
  5. Appeals panel – get your panel set up, think about agreements with neighbouring schools. Independent governors helpful in showing neutrality of the appeal and good for ongoing relations
  6. Recording and analysing complaints – can help in school improvement
  7. Have a Policy for managing any vexatious complaints
  8. Retain documentation - a minimum of 6 years is recommended, then review for further retention in case of contentious disputes.
  9. Dispose of all of your documentation securely.

Is the customer always right? Well, no, of course not, but then neither is the school. A pro-active and positive approach to handling complaints might just be one of the features that identifies an outstanding school.

Good complaint handling requires strong and effective leadership. Those at the top of the public body should take the lead in ensuring good complaint handling, with regard to both the practice and the culture. Senior managers should:

Public bodies should consider the policy and practice of complaint handling as an integral part of the service they provide to customers.

Staff should be properly equipped and empowered to put things right promptly where something has gone wrong. They should be supported by clear lines of authority and decision making that are flexible enough to respond to complaints effectively and authoritatively.

Complaint handling should focus on the outcomes for the complainant and, where appropriate, others affected.

The fact is that the more clearly a school’s policies are enunciated, the more detailed and specific they are, the more readily parents tend to trust the officials who developed them. When a teacher or principal can point out the reasoning behind the policy and why it was developed, it is the obligation of parents to either accept it or vote with their feet.

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