Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

MP debate over proposed parental complaints procedure

ASCL was mentioned more than 20 times by MPs in the House of Commons committee debate over the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill.

During the debate, many of the arguments for amendments or clarifications put forward by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were lifted straight from ASCL briefings to MPs and General Secretary John Dunford's evidence to the Public Bill Committee.

One clause argued strongly on all sides was the proposed new parental complaints procedure, which would give a local government ombudsman power to hear parents' grievances.

Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb quoted ASCL's briefing verbatim in the debate, saying: "The decision to create a new system for school complaints has not been greeted universally with acclaim. The Association of School and College Leaders said in its briefing to members of the committee: 'The complaints service proposed has the potential to be expensive, bureaucratic and, as it will have an interest in justifying its own existence, may be liable to increase rather than diminish whatever problems there may be.'"

He added: "We agree with the ASCL that any [complaints] to do with behaviour and discipline...should be taken out of the bill."

ASCL also called for an amendment that explicitly allowed vexatious complaints to be thrown out.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson David Laws said: "My impression is that many of the [parental] complaints...probably reflect a frustration with the decisions that were originally made. I am horrified, as are the ASCL and the NUT, by the thought that...there could be the process of appeal not only to a headteacher, but to a governing body, potentially to a local authority and then to this ombudsman function."

Another argument against the new procedures, raised by ASCL and taken up by the opposition parties, was the inevitable increase in recordkeeping as schools find it necessary to document evidence to protect themselves against complaints.

David Laws said: "[Schools Minister Jim Knight] confirmed my fears about school bureaucracy, when he said that schools would start to need a more rigorous complaints procedure and would need to write everything down in more detail. That is precisely what I am worried about."

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, no significant changes were made to the complaints procedure in the bill during the Commons committee stage as Labour MPs - including Jim Knight and Further Education Minister Sin Simon - who have a majority in the committee, voted against amendments to the bill.

The bill has now started its journey through the House of Lords, where ASCL will continue to press for the amendments raised in the Commons.

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