Rumworth has a complaints procedure which ensures that they respond to complaints as quickly and effectively as possible. The procedure will set out exactly what will happen with a complaint and how long the process will take. The procedure will be used to deal with complaints relating to the school and any community facilities or services that the school provides. The school values all comments about the school and will endeavour to address the complainants concerns or complaints at the earliest stage possible.
A ‘concern’ may be defined as ‘an expression of worry or doubt over an issue considered to be important for which reassurances are sought’. A complaint may be generally defined as ‘an expression of dissatisfaction however made, about actions taken or a lack of action’. The formal procedures will need to be invoked when initial attempts to resolve the complaint are unsuccessful and the person raising the complaint remains dissatisfied and wishes the matter to be heard by an impartial committee of the Governing Board.
In the first instance complainants will be directed to a member of staff who will refer the complaint to the most appropriate person. If the complaint concerns the Head Teacher the complainant should contact the Chair of Governors in writing via the school. If the complaint is about the Chair of Governors or any individual governor, the complainant should write to the Clerk to the Governors who will convene the complaints committee appointed from the Governing Board, and stage four of this procedure will apply. In this instance the Vice-Chair of Governors may choose to present the evidence for the school. The Clerk may refer to the Local Authority, Governor Services/ Diocese/Board of Trustees for advice and support on any investigation.
When making a complaint it is important that the complainant identifies their desired outcome, that is what actions they feel might resolve the problem at any stage. Pupils, parents or carers can make a complaint to the school about most aspects of its function.
The same complaint could be made jointly by a number of persons, in this case it is expected that a nominee/representative speak on behalf of all complainants, otherwise, all complaints will be dealt with on an individual basis.
Members of the general public may make complaints to the school if the school is directly responsible for the issue being complained about for example, behaviour of pupils during break-times; health and safety issues of premises and behaviour of staff. These complaints will not fall within the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State or Ofsted, therefore only the Head Teacher and the Governing Board will consider them.
Complaints not in Scope of this Policy
Complaints not in scope of this procedure due to separate statutory procedures are:
- admissions to schools; statutory assessments of Special Educational Needs;
- school re-organisation proposals;
- matters likely to require a Child Protection Investigation;
- exclusion of children from school
- staff grievance and disciplinary procedure;
- Complaints about service provided by other providers who may use the premises or facilities.
A complaint about any community facilities or services provided by any third party through the school premises or using school facilities should be addressed to the third party provider who will have their own complaints procedure. Copies of the complaints procedure for any third party provider are available directly from the provider.
Governing Board Review
The Governing Board will monitor the level and nature of complaints and review the outcomes on a regular basis to ensure the effectiveness of the procedure and make changes where necessary. Complaints will not be shared with the whole Governing Board, except in very general terms, in case a complaints committee is required to be formed. Complaints information shared with the whole Governing Board will not normally name individuals.
If the whole Governing Board is aware of the substance of a complaint before the final stage has been completed, the school will arrange for an independent panel to hear the complaint. The Governing Board may make a formal approach to another school, to ask for help or the LA Governor Services team or the Diocese. Guidance should be sought on the matter before a formal approach is made.
As well as addressing an individual’s complaints, the process of listening to and resolving complaints will contribute to school improvement. When individual complaints are heard, any underlying issues that are identified will be addressed. The monitoring and review of complaints by the school and the Governing Board is seen as a useful tool in evaluating a school’s performance and will be shared with the Senior Management Team in order for services to be improved.
Timeframes and Timeliness
Realistic timeframes for all aspects of the process are included within this procedure and should be adhered to at all stages. Where further investigation is required, new timeframes may be considered; however, details of these including an explanation will be provided to the complainant. Complaints should be made as soon as possible after an incident arises and before three months have lapsed. After three months, the School will consider on an individual basis whether to consider exceptions to this.
Recording and Co-ordination of Complaints
Complainants will be requested to submit their complaint in writing by completing the enclosed ‘School Complaints Form’. (Appendix 1) The School is mindful of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and requests for alternative methods of communication will be considered where appropriate. Suitable records of such communication will be required.
In order to prevent any later challenge or disagreement over what was said, brief notes of meetings and telephone calls will be kept and a copy of any written response added to the record. Minutes of the Stage 4 Complaints Committee meeting must be taken.
The School will record the progress of the complaint and the final outcome. The Head Teacher or complaints co-ordinator will be responsible for these records and hold them centrally. Complainants have a right to copies of these records under the Freedom of Information Acts.
Schools may find it useful to have a complaints co-ordinator to ensure the smooth running of the complaints procedure and adequate recording of all stages of the process. This role may undertaken by the Head Teacher. It is expected that the role would include:
- ensuring that the complainant is fully updated at each stage of the procedure;
- ensure that all people involved in the complaints procedure will be aware of the legislation around complaints including the Equality Act 2010, Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information Act 2000;
- liaise with staff members, Head Teacher (if not undertaking the role), Chair of Governors and Clerk to ensure the smooth running of the complaints procedure;
- keep records;
- be aware of issues such as sharing third party information and additional support that may be needed by complainants, including interpretation support.
Investigating and Resolving Complaints
The Investigator is the person(s) involved in Stages 1 to 3 of the procedure. At each stage, the person investigating the complaint will make sure that they provide a comprehensive, open, transparent and fair consideration of the complaint through:
- sensitive and thorough interviewing of the complainant to establish what has happened and who has been involved;
- consideration of records and other relevant information;
- interviewing staff and children/young people and other people relevant to the complaint;
- analysing information;
- effectively liaising with the complainant and the complaints co-ordinator as appropriate to clarify what the complainant feels would put things right;
- identifying solutions and recommending courses of action to resolve problems;
- being mindful of the timescales to respond; and
- responding to the complainant in plain and clear language.
The person investigating the complaint should make sure that they:
- conduct interviews with an open mind and be prepared to persist in the questioning;
- keep notes of interviews or arrange for an independent note taker to record minutes of the meeting.
Dealing with Unreasonable or Persistent Complaints
If properly followed, the complaints procedure will limit the number of complaints that become protracted. However, there will be occasions when, despite all stages of the procedures having been followed, the complainant remains dissatisfied. There are occasions when complaints become unreasonable and the school has a policy to deal with such situations. A copy of the ‘Policy for Unreasonable Complaints’ is enclosed (appendix 2). The School will do their best to be helpful to complainants; however, in cases where the school is contacted repeatedly by an individual making the same points, or who asks them to reconsider their position, the school will take appropriate action. It is a poor use of schools’ time and resources to reply to repeated letters, emails or telephone calls making substantially the same points. If a complainant tries to re-open the same issue, the Chair of Governors will inform the complainant that the procedure has been completed and that the matter is now closed.
If the complainant contacts the school again on the same issue, then the correspondence may be viewed as ‘serial’ or ‘persistent’ and the school may choose not to respond.
Complaints Procedure – Stage 1 (informal)
Stage One: Complaint Heard by Staff Member
The vast majority of concerns can be resolved informally. There are many occasions where the class teacher, office staff, or the Head Teacher, can resolve concerns straight away. It is in everyone’s best interests that complaints are resolved at the earliest possible stage. Complainants must feel able to raise their complaint with members of staff without any formality, either in person, by telephone or in writing. This allows staff to establish whether a person is asking a question, expressing an opinion or making a complaint.
The member of staff first contacted will clarify the nature of the complaint and re-assure the complainant that the school wants to hear about it. Once a complaint has been received by a member of staff they will determine whether they are the best person to resolve the complaint. The complaints co-ordinator should be informed of the complaint.
The School respect the views of any complainant and if they express a difficulty in discussing their complaint with a particular member of staff the complaints co-ordinator will refer the complainant to another member of staff.
Where the complaint concerns the Head Teacher, the complaints co-ordinator will refer the complainant to the Chair of Governors.
If the complaint involves any child protection issue, the Head Teacher will inform the relevant Local Authority social care team or Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).
Similarly, if the member of staff directly involved feels too compromised to deal with a complaint, the complaints co-ordinator may consider referring the complainant to another staff member.
Once the complaint has been investigated the outcome will be communicated to the complainant and the complaints co-ordinator. The complaint will be responded to within 10 school days either verbally or in writing. The complainant must also be informed of what do next if they remain dissatisfied with the response.
If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of the investigation into their complaint they should write to the Head Teacher within 10 school days asking for your complaint to be investigated at stage 2.
Complaints Procedure – Stage 2 (formal)
Stage Two: Complaint Heard by Head Teacher
Parents and pupils will be advised of their right to make complaints. Complaints should be made either in writing using or by arrangement of an appointment with the Head Teacher. The complainant may choose to use the attached complaints form (see appendix 1). If the complaint is about the Head Teacher the Chair of Governors will deal with the matter using this procedure. If the complainant has difficulty expressing themselves in writing, they should be informed where they can get independent assistance.
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. The person investigating the complaint should be clear what exactly the complaint is and the desired outcome as soon as possible.
The Head Teacher will contact the complainant and provide an opportunity for the complainant to discuss their complaints and find solutions. This could be by phone or in a meeting. It will be made clear that the complainant may bring a friend, family member or advocate to any meeting if they wish. Interpreting services will be made available where necessary. The Head Teacher should have another member of staff present to observe and record the meeting and promote staff safety. Care should be taken in these circumstances not to create an intimidating atmosphere for the complainant. If it is necessary to interview pupils as part of the investigation, this will be done in the presence of another member of staff, or in the case of serious complaints e.g. where the possibility of criminal investigation exists, in the presence of their parents.
Written notes will be kept of all communications with regard to the complaint and its investigation.
The complaint will be investigated and written response will be provided within 10 school days, unless the complaint is complicated and to allow for a full investigation to be carried out an extension of 10 school days may be granted. Where it is deemed necessary to apply an extension to the investigation period this will be communicated to the complainant.
The complainant must be informed of the right to progress the complaint to stage 3 if they remain dissatisfied.
Complaints Procedure – Stage 3 (formal)
Stage Three: Complaint Heard by Chair of Governors
Where a complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of a complaint at stage two they should write to the Chair of Governors within 10 school days of receipt of the decision of the stage two investigation. The Chair of Governors will first ensure that the complaint has been dealt with at stage two, and the complaint is covered by the school’s complaints procedure not other procedures e.g. personnel or child protection. If not the matter will be referred back to the Head Teacher and the Chair of Governors will write to the complainant advising them of the correct procedures.
Upon receipt of a letter notifying the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of a stage two investigation, the Chair of Governors will write acknowledging that the complaint has been received. At this point the Chair of Governors will reinvestigate the complaint or/and offer mediation as a means of resolving the complaint. Mediation can be facilitated by the Chair of Governors, or if it is felt to be more appropriate an external agency may be used such as The Bolton Information and Advisory Service for SEND, Bully Free-zone or a professional mediation service.
The complainant must be informed of the right to progress the complaint to stage 4 if they remain dissatisfied.
Complaints Procedure – Stage 4 (formal)
Stage Four: Complaint Heard by Governing Board’s Complaints Committee
Where a complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of a complaint at stage three they should write further to the Chair of Governors within 10 school days of receipt of the decision of the stage three investigation. The Chair of Governors will write acknowledging that the complaint has been received and confirm that the matter will progress to be heard by the Governing Board’s Complaints Committee. The letter will explain that the complainant has the right to submit any further documents or information relevant to the complaint. A deadline for submission of these documents will be given, which should be at least 5 school days before the hearing.
A clerk will be appointed who will convene the complaints committee appointed from the Governing Board. The committee will comprise of 3 or 5 governors who have no previous involvement with the complaint, of which one will assume the role of chair for the committee, who will have delegated powers to hear complaints at this stage. The complaint should never be heard by the entire Governing Board. If the whole Governing Board is aware of the substance of a complaint before the final stage has been completed, the school will arrange for an independent panel to hear the complaint. The Governing Board may make a formal approach to another school, to ask for help or the LA Governor Services team or the Diocese. Guidance should be sought on the matter before a formal approach is made.
Procedure for the Governing Board Complaints Committee Hearing
The School at this point will determine the appropriate person to represent at the meeting. This would usually be the Head Teacher or Chair of Governors. In the event of a complaint about the Head Teacher, this would be the Chair of Governors.
The Head Teacher and Chair of Governors will also be invited to submit a written report for the committee; this may be a copy of the stage two and three response. The Head Teacher may also invite members of staff directly involved in matters raised by the complainant to respond personally or in writing.
The complaints committee will set a timetable for the hearing and should notify the complainant of this. The hearing should be heard within 20 school days of receiving the letter following stage three.
It is strongly recommended that the complaints hearing meeting be professionally clerked. The clerk would be the contact point for the complainant and be required to:
- 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;
- welcome the parties as they arrive to the hearing;
- record the proceedings;
- notify all parties of the committee’s decision.
The Clerk will write to inform the committee, Head Teacher, complainant and any relevant witnesses of the date and time of the hearing, giving a minimum of 5 days notice. All documents submitted will be circulated to the committee, the Head Teacher and the complainant. The complainant will be notified of their right to have a friend, family member, advocate or interpreter present if they wish. The Chair of Governors will ensure that minutes are taken at the complaints committee meeting.
The committee should be open-minded and independent. The aim of the meeting will be to resolve the complaint and achieve reconciliation between the school and the complainant. However, it may sometimes only be possible to establish the facts and make recommendations that satisfy the complainant that their complaint has been taken seriously.
The decision of the committee must be final as they have been delegated authority by the Governing Board to hear and make decisions about the complaint.
The hearing will be held in private. Any witnesses (other than the complainant and the Head Teacher) will only attend for the part of the hearing in which they give evidence. Good practice would be that at no point will the Head Teacher or the complainant be left with the complaints committee without the other being present.
The committee should remember that the complainants may not be familiar with the conduct of formal meetings and may feel inhibited in addressing the committee. It is recommended that the chair of the committee keep the proceedings as informal as possible. This is particularly important if the complainant is a child.
If either party wishes to introduce new information at the meeting, this should be allowed. The meeting should then be adjourned for a short period to allow other parties to review and respond to this information.
The meeting will allow for
- The complainant to explain their complaint and the Head Teacher to explain the school’s response
- Witnesses to be brought by the complainant or the Head Teacher
- The Head Teacher and the complainant to ask questions of each other and any witnesses
- The committee to ask questions of the complainant, Head Teacher and any witnesses
- The complainant and the Head Teacher to summarise their position
The chair of the committee should thank the complainant and Head Teacher for their attendance and request they leave the meeting while the committee consider their decision.
The Committee Members can then decide to:
- 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.
The school will retain a copy of all correspondence and records of meetings in line with current retention guidelines.
The Role of the School Complaints Unit
If a complaint has completed the local procedures and the complainant remains dissatisfied, they have the right to refer their complaint to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has a duty to consider all complaints raised but will only intervene where the governing body has acted unlawfully or unreasonably and where it is expedient or practical to do so.
The School Complaints Unit (SCU) considers complaints relating to LA maintained schools in England on behalf of the Secretary of State. The SCU will look at whether the complaints policy and any other relevant statutory policies were adhered to. The SCU also looks at whether statutory policies adhere to education legislation. However, the SCU will not normally re-investigate the substance of the complaint. This remains the responsibility of schools.
The SCU will not overturn a school’s decision about a complaint except in exceptional circumstances where it is clear the school has acted unlawfully or unreasonably. If the SCU finds that the school has not handled a complaint in accordance with its procedure, they may request that the complaint is looked at again.
If legislative or policy breaches are found, the SCU will report them to the school and the complainant, and where necessary, ask for corrective action to be taken. The SCU normally also seeks written assurances as to future conduct. Failure to carry out remedial actions or provide written assurances could ultimately result in a formal Direction being issued by the Secretary of State in accordance with their powers under sections 496 and 497 of the Education Act 1996.
Schools may wish to contact the SCU for advice on whether they have acted reasonably; for example: in closing down a complaint from a serial complainant before the local procedure has been completed. However, the SCU will not be able to advise on how to resolve the complaint.
If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaints, they can refer the matter or seek further advice from the SCU by calling the National Helpline on 0370 000 2288 or going online at: www.education.gov.uk/help/contactus or by writing to:
The School Complaints Unit (SCU)
Department for Education
2nd Floor, Piccadilly Gate
Rumworth School has adopted the Bolton Council Model Policy for Whistleblowing. Please click here to view and download the policy.