Complaints from parents
A question to the hotline has raised the issue of complaints from parents of former pupils. It is a statutory requirement for schools to have complaints procedures which cover any complaint made by a parent about the school or its staff.
The purpose of these procedures, according to the DCSF School Resources Group, which has the responsibility for this area, is to act as a means of conciliation between stakeholders in the school.
It does not, therefore, apply to past parents or past pupils. Governors and heads may wish to investigate complaints from past pupils and parents to see if there are lessons for the future, but they are not obliged to do so and the formal complaints procedure is not expected to cover such complaints.
Ofsted has the power to investigate parental complaints but the agency has said that these will only be considered when other avenues have been exhausted, and that they do not expect to explore individual cases.
Local authorities have no statutory role in complaints by parents about the running of schools, a position which was reinforced last year in a ruling by the local government ombudsman.
The guidance from the DCSF suggests that schools should take advantage of the experience of local authorities and, where this is helpful, invoke their good offices to mediate. However, there is no obligation of schools to request, or local authorities to offer, this support.
A complaints procedure may well have informal as well as formal stages and it will be important that any actions taken or discussions at the informal stage should not compromise the integrity of the formal process. If in doubt, the formal process should be invoked earlier rather than later.
The usual rules for investigation apply and it is crucial that no one involved in the investigation, however informally, should be involved in hearing the complaint. If a governor, for instance, socially knows a parent who has made a complaint, this is likely to preclude that governor from taking any part in either investigation or hearing.
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