Walton Holymoorside Primary and Nursery School
DERBYSHIRE LA COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE FOR EXTERNAL COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE ACTIONS OF SCHOOL STAFF
A PDF version of this document is available here: Complaints procedure
It is important to be clear about the difference between a concern and a complaint. A ‘concern’ may be defined as ‘an expression of worry or doubt over an issue considered to be important for which reassurances are sought’. The school will take informal concerns seriously at the earliest stage. In most cases concerns are successfully resolved informally through discussions with the Headteacher or, if appropriate, and only with their agreement, the staff member. The initial contact with the school may be by telephone, email or in writing, to make appropriate arrangements. The sharing of concerns at this stage will reduce the numbers that develop into formal complaints. It is anticipated that most concerns will be handled without the need for formal procedures.
A complaint may be generally defined as ‘an expression of dissatisfaction however made, about actions taken or a lack of action.’
- Where the matter is clearly a complaint, rather than a concern, then the complainant should refer to the complaints co-ordinator/headteacher, not directly to any other member of staff who may be involved
- Where the first approach is made to a governor, the next step would be to refer the complainant to the complaints co-ordinator/headteacher and advise them of the procedure. It is important for governors to be aware that they should not act unilaterally outside the formal procedure or be involved in the early stages of a complaint
- Where a complaint concerns the headteacher, the matter will be referred to the Chair of Governors. Complaints against the Chair of Governors or any individual governor should be made in writing to the Clerk to the Governing Body
Any concerns or complaints should be raised with the school as soon as possible after the matter arises. This will help when looking into the issue, as memories will be fresher and other relevant information more readily available. Complaints will not normally be considered after a period of more than three months has elapsed since the incident in question. Exceptional circumstances will, of course, be taken into account.
Formal Stage 1 (Complaint Heard by Headteacher)
If the complainant is not satisfied with the response they may choose to submit their complaint formally to the Complaints Co-ordinator/Headteacher (please delete as applicable and provide details here of the co-ordinator if one is appointed) in writing, using the attached form.
It is important that the letter includes name, contact details, nature of complaint and any suggested resolution to the complaint. If the complainant has a disability and needs a reasonable adjustment, they can contact the school by telephone, or in person and we will arrange to meet with them at a mutually convenient time/date and help by writing out the complaint.
At this point the Headteacher may have to consider any dissatisfaction the complainant has with the way their complaint has been addressed so far as well as the initial complaint. The Head may delegate the task of collating information to another staff member but not the decision concerning the response to be provided and any action to be taken.
The receipt of the complaint should be acknowledged within two working days and the response provided as soon as possible and at least within a further fifteen working days, unless the Headteacher has agreed a different timescale with the complainant owing to particular reasons.
Formal Stage 2 (Complaint Heard by Chair of Governors)
If the complainant is not satisfied with the response of the headteacher or the complaint is about the headteacher, the complainant should write to the Chair of Governors within ten working days of receiving the response, using the form provided, to request their complaint be considered further.
The letter should not be sent to other governors or to the clerk to governors to be submitted to a Governing Body Meeting. This is because other governors may be needed if the complaint is progressed further through the formal procedure. To fulfil such a role they must not have had prior involvement in the complaint.
The Chair should acknowledge the letter within two working days of receipt. (Complainants need to be aware that governors are not employees and may not receive the communication immediately. Likewise, envelopes marked ‘private & confidential’ will not be opened by others in the Chair’s absence) The Chair may nominate another governor to investigate, for personal or contextual reasons.
The Chair will review the investigation conducted at stage 1 and carry out further enquiries if required. Where necessary they will speak to everyone involved as soon as practicable. The investigation will usually be within fifteen working days. (It is important to remember that governors are volunteers and may have their own work commitments. Further, it is possible that the Chair may be away at the time the complaint is submitted and envelopes marked ‘private & confidential’ will not be opened by anyone else). If the complaint is about the headteacher, this will be the first formal investigation of the complaint, as it will have been directly referred to the Chair.
A written response with the outcome of the complaint should be provided within a further five working days, unless additional time is arranged.
Formal Stage 3 (Complaint Heard by Governing Body’s Complaints Panel)
If the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of the Chair of Governor’s investigation they should write to the Clerk to the Governing Body, within ten working days of receiving the response, stating why, and request that their complaint be referred to the Complaints Panel of the Governing Body.
The governors’ hearing is the last school-based stage of the complaints process and is not 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 which may be set up for a disciplinary hearing, in the rare circumstances where one is required following a serious complaint.
The Complaints Panel will comprise three Governors who have not previously been involved in the complaint and/or do not have a personal or pecuniary interest.
The Clerk will convene a meeting of the Complaints Panel within fifteen working days of the request, or as soon as is reasonably practicable. At least five working days before the meeting, members of the Complaints Panel, Headteacher/Chair and complainant should be provided with all papers to be considered at the hearing.
The Headteacher and/or Chair of Governors should be invited to attend the meeting to state their case. The complainant should be invited to attend the meeting to state their case and should be offered the opportunity to be accompanied by a friend or other adult if they wish. Normally children should not attend.
The complainant does not have to attend the meeting in which case the Complaints Panel will consider the documentary evidence provided by the complainant and the Headteacher and/or Chair do not have to attend.
The role of the panel is to review the earlier investigation and outcome, not conduct a fresh investigation. Therefore new information should not be presented to the hearing.
Complainants have the right to request an independent complaints panel , if they believe there is likely to be bias in the proceedings. The school will consider such a request, taking account of the reasons given, and the governors will decide whether to agree.
The panel can:
- Dismiss the complaint in whole or in part
- Uphold the complaint in whole or in part
- Reach a judgement on the appropriate action to be taken to resolve the complaint
- Recommend the consideration of changes to the school’s systems or procedures to ensure that problems of a similar nature do not recur
They should consider whether the earlier investigation(s) were conducted appropriately and reasonably, whether the decision of the Headteacher /Chair of Governors was reasonable in the light of the information gathered and presented. The panel may determine an alternative outcome to the complaint, based on the same information.
The aim of the hearing is to establish the facts and make recommendations which will assure the complainant that his or her complaint has been taken seriously. The panel should always seek to resolve the complaint and achieve reconciliation between the school and complainant. It is recognised that the complainant may not be satisfied with the outcome, if the hearing does not find in their favour. However it is hoped that they will feel that the consideration of their complaint has been robust.
The Chair of the Panel needs to ensure that that the complainant is notified of the panel’s decision, in writing, within 2 working days.
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, we 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 her 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.
Further information can be obtained 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:
Department for Education
Unit 2nd Floor, Piccadilly Gate
Complaints not in scope of the Procedure
A complaints procedure should cover all complaints about any provision of facilities or services that a school provides with the exceptions listed below, for which there are separate (statutory) procedures.
|Exceptions||Who to contact|
|• Admissions to schools
• Statutory assessments of Special Educational Needs (SEN)
• School re-organisation proposals
• Matters likely to require a Child Protection Investigation
|Concerns should be raised direct with local authorities (LA). For school admissions, it will depend on who is the admission authority (either the school or the LA). Complaints about admission appeals for maintained schools are dealt with by the Local Government Ombudsman.|
• Exclusion of children from school
|Further information about raising concerns about exclusion can be found at: www.gov.uk/school-discipline-exclusions/exclusions.|
• Whistleblowing (in Derbyshire the procedure is named ‘Confidential Reporting Code, Whistleblowing’)
|Schools have an internal whistleblowing procedure for their employees and voluntary staff. Other concerns can be raised direct with Ofsted by telephone on: 0300 123 3155, via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to: WBHL, Ofsted Piccadilly Gate Store Street Manchester M1 2WD. The Department for Education is also a prescribed body for whistleblowing in education.|
• Staff grievances and disciplinary procedures
|These matters will invoke the school’s internal grievance procedures. Complainants will not be informed of the outcome of any investigation.|
• Complaints about services provided by other providers who may use school premises or facilities.
|Providers should have their own complaints procedure to deal with complaints about service. They should be contacted direct.|
The Role of the Complainant
The person making the complaint will receive a more effective response if he/she:-
- Co-operates with the school in seeking a solution to the complaint
- Expresses the complaint in full as early as possible
- Responds promptly to requests for information or meetings or in agreeing the details of the complaint
- Asks for assistance as needed
- Treats all those involved with respect
The Role of the Complaints Co-ordinator (or Headteacher)
The complaints co-ordinator should:-
- Ensure that the complainant is fully updated at each stage of the procedure
- Ensure that all people involved in the 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, Headteacher, Chair of Governors and Clerk to ensure the smooth running of the complaints procedure
- Keep records
- Be aware of issues regarding:
- third party information
- additional support – this may be needed when making a complaint ( including arranging for interpretation support)
Serial and/or Unreasonably Persistent Complainants and/or Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour
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 procedure having been followed, the complainant remains dissatisfied. If the complainant tries to reopen the same issue, the Chair is able to inform them in writing that the procedure has been exhausted and the matter is now closed. Please consult the full procedure for dealing with serial and/or unreasonably persistent complainants, vexatious complaints and/or unreasonable complaints behaviour, available as Appendix 3.
Please check the detail of the procedure for what needs to be included at each stage.
Example of A Complaint Form
Please complete and return to Headteacher who will acknowledge receipt and explain what action will be taken. If you have a disability and need a reasonable adjustment you can contact us by telephone and we will arrange to help you by writing out your complaint.
|Pupil’s name (if relevant):
|Your relationship to the pupil (if relevant):
Day time telephone number:
Evening telephone number:
|Please give details of your complaint.
|What action, if any, have you already taken to try and resolve your complaint.
(Who did you speak to and what was the response)?
|What actions do you feel might resolve the problem at this stage?
|Are you attaching any paperwork? If so, please give details.
Date acknowledgement sent:
Complaint referred to:
Procedure for dealing with Serial and/or Unreasonably Persistent Complainants and Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour
The school is committed to dealing with all complaints fairly and impartially and to providing a high quality response to complainants. The school will not normally limit the contact complainants have with the school. However, we do not expect our staff to tolerate unacceptable behaviour and will take action to protect staff from that behaviour, including that which is abusive, offensive or threatening. Having a procedure on unreasonably persistent complainants and unreasonable complainant behaviour helps the school to deal with complainants in ways which are consistent and fair.
The school has adopted the definition of ‘unreasonable’ and ‘unreasonably persistent’ complainants as those who, because of the frequency or nature of their contacts with the school, hinder the school’s consideration of their, or other people’s, complaints.
Unreasonably Persistent Complainant Behaviour
A complaint may be regarded as unreasonable when the person making the complaint:-
- introduces trivial or irrelevant new information and expecting it to be taken into account and commented on, or raising large numbers of detailed but unimportant questions and insisting they are all fully answered, often immediately or to their own timescales;
- makes excessive demands on school time by frequent, lengthy, complicated and stressful contact with staff regarding the complaint in person, in writing by email and by telephone, while the complaint is being investigated and often expecting immediate responses;
- submits repeat complaints, after the complaints process has been completed, essentially about the same issue but with additions/variations which the complainant insists make these ‘new’ complaints which he/she wants to be put through the full complaints procedure;
- seeks an unrealistic outcome;
- refusal to accept the decision reached on the complaint, repeatedly arguing the point and complaining about the decision, when the school’s complaints procedure has been fully and properly implemented and completed.
This list is not exhaustive and unreasonably persistent complainant behaviour is not limited to one, or a combination of any, of the above.
Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour
Unreasonable complainant behaviour can come about when the situation between the School and a complainant escalates and the complainant’s behaviour becomes unacceptable. Examples of unreasonable complainant behaviour include:-
- refusal by complainant to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of assistance;
- refusal by complainant to co-operate with the complaints process, yet still wanting his/her complaint to be resolved;
- refusal to accept that issues raised are not within the remit of the complaints procedure;
- insistence that the complaint be dealt with in ways which are incompatible with the School’s adopted complaints procedure;
- making apparently groundless complaints about staff/governor dealing with the complaint and seeking to have those staff removed/replaced;
- changing the basis of the complaint as the investigation proceeds and/or denying statements he/she made at an earlier stage;
- Electronically recording meetings and conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of the other persons involved.
A complaint may also be considered unreasonable if the person making the complaint does so either face to face, by telephone, in writing or electronically:-
- using threats, intimidation or violence,
- using abusive, offensive or discriminatory language,
- knowing it to be false,
- using falsified information,
- publishing unacceptable information in a variety of media such as in social media websites and newspapers.
This list is not exhaustive and unreasonable complainant behaviour is not limited to one, or a combination of any, of the above.
Complainants should limit the number of communications with a school while a complaint is being dealt with. It is not helpful if repeated correspondence is sent (via any medium) as it could delay the outcome being reached and could lead to a determination of unreasonable complaint behaviour.
Wherever possible, the Headteacher or Chair of Governors will discuss any concerns with the complainant informally before applying a determination of ‘unreasonable’ complaint behaviour.
The aim of the procedure for dealing with unreasonably persistent complainants and unreasonable complainant behaviour, is to deal fairly and honestly with the complainant whilst ensuring that other service users and staff/governors do not suffer any detriment from people making repeated and persistent, unreasonable complaints.
- Dealing with Unreasonably Persistent Complainants
The decision to designate someone as unreasonably persistent can only be made by the Chair of Governors in consultation with the Headteacher. As appropriate, staff and governors should be informed that contact with a named complainant is being restricted and why, and who will have access to that information on request.
- Assessing whether the action is proportionate and necessary
Consideration of the following points, together with any other relevant factual information, will be necessary to assess whether the proposed action is proportionate and necessary:
- Is the complaint being investigated properly and in accordance with the School’s procedure for investigating complaints?
- Is there another, more specific, path for the complainant to follow?
- Are the correct timescales being adhered to?
- Has the complainant been advised of any delays that may have occurred?
- Are the considerations/decisions reached, as part of the investigation, being reached correctly?
- Have communications with the complainant been adequate, clear and co-ordinated?
- Has consideration been given to the possibility of mental health problems, learning disabilities, or personality disorders?
- Is the complainant now providing any significant new information that might affect the School’s view of his/her complaint?
- Assessing whether further action is necessary before designating the complainant ‘unreasonably persistent’
If satisfied on these points, consideration should be given to whether further action is necessary prior to making the decision to designate the complainant as unreasonably persistent, for example:
Have any meetings taken place between the complainant and the Headteacher and Chair of Governors? If not, unless there is a known risk about such a meeting, would this be likely to help the situation? The complainant may be accompanied by an advocate, if he/she wishes, if it is considered that a meeting may help the situation.
Under no circumstances should an individual be designated as making a serial complaint for exercising their democratic right to refer their complaint to their local MP, regardless of which stage the complaint has reached.
- Applying restrictions
Before applying any restrictions, the complainant should be given a warning in writing that if his/her actions continue, the school may determine to treat him/her as,
- pursuing a serial and/or unreasonably persistent complaint, and or
- adopting unreasonable complaint behavior.
Any sanction applied will usually be reviewed after 6 months.
- Options for action
The precise nature of the action the School decides to take should be appropriate and proportionate to the nature and frequency of the complainant’s contacts with the School at that time. It is important, however, to ensure that the Complaints Procedure has been followed.
The following is a list of some possible actions for managing a complainant’s involvement with the School:
- Placing time limits on telephone conversations and personal contacts.
- Restricting the number of telephone calls that will be taken e.g. one call on one specified day of any week.
- Limiting the complainant to one contact medium e.g. telephone, letter, e-mail and/or requiring the complainant to communicate with one named member of staff.
- Requiring personal contacts to take place in the presence of a witness.
- Refusing to register/process further complaints about the same matter.
The list is not exhaustive and local case by case factors may be relevant in deciding appropriate action.
- Completed complaints
Where the complaint has gone through Stage 3 of the School’s corporate complaints procedure then there is no further avenue through which to pursue the matter with the school. Should correspondence from the complainant continue, the Chair of the Governing Body will write to the complainant to inform him/her that the matter is at an end and the School will not enter into further correspondence about the complaint, and any further letters on the same subject will be read and placed on file, but will receive no acknowledgement or response.
- Dealing with Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour
The School has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its staff and it does not expect staff to tolerate language or behaviour by complainants which is abusive, offensive, or threatening.
Members of staff who feel threatened or intimidated by the language or behaviour of complainants should report their concerns to their Headteacher, copied to Chair of Governors.
In response to any serious incident of aggression or violence, the concerns and actions taken will be put in writing immediately and the police informed. This may include banning an individual from the school premises. (see section 15 below).
The letter will require the individual not to repeat the behaviour and, if necessary, set conditions and restrictions for further contact with staff.
This procedure sits alongside existing policies as a means of addressing the full spectrum of behaviours which the School may need to address.
- Telephone contact
During a telephone conversation, if staff consider that the caller is becoming aggressive and/or offensive, they will inform the caller that they will terminate the conversation unless such behaviour ceases. If the aggression continues, the member of staff will terminate the call and a note will be placed on file explaining why the call was terminated.
Repeated calls of this nature are considered to be unacceptable and should be reported to the Headteacher to determine appropriate action.
- Personal contact
Visitors to School premises may show aggressive behaviour when they do not achieve the aim of their visit. Triggers for unreasonable behaviour can include:
- Not being able to see the person he/she holds responsible for his/her current situation or discontentment.
- Not being allowed instant access to the Headteacher.
- Not being able to resolve his/her complaint during his/her visit.
Examples of aggressive and unreasonable behaviour can include:
- Shouting loudly and making demands to see the staff member he/she holds responsible.
- Making threats to members of staff who are trying to help.
- Using abusive and upsetting language to members of staff.
- Refusing to leave until the problem is resolved.
- His/her continued presence causes disruption/distress to other visitors.
Difficult situations such as this can sometimes be resolved by being patient, remaining calm, listening and identifying the exact nature of the problem.
If it is not possible to resolve the situation actions may include:
- ensure another member of staff is present. If this is not practicable, assess the situation and decide what action you should take e.g. leave the room to seek assistance;
- telephone to ask for further assistance if necessary and possible;
- if applicable, try to remain behind a desk/table/counter – this acts as a barrier and maintains a distance, thus reducing the risk of violent behavior;
- if the complainant refuses to calm down, raise the alarm to ask for assistance;
- explain clearly that you are unable to help any further but that you will pass on the details of his/her complaint to the relevant person, then, if necessary, ask the complainant to leave the premises;
- as soon as possible after the incident, write up a clear account of what has happened, listing those present at the time. Sign and date the document and forward to the Headteacher.
This list is not exhaustive and unreasonable complainant behaviour is not limited to one, or a combination of any, of the above.
Where the behaviour is so extreme that it threatens the immediate safety and welfare of the School’s staff, other options will be considered e.g. reporting the matter to the Police or taking legal action. In such cases, the complainant may not be given prior warning of that action.
- Application of the Procedure
If the decision is made to apply the procedure, the Chair of Governors will write to the complainant including the following information.
- Inform him/her that the decision has been taken to invoke the procedure.
- Explain what it means for his/her contacts with the School.
- Explain how long any restrictions will last.
- Explain what the complainant can do to have the decision reviewed.
- Enclose a copy of the procedure with the letter.
Complainants who may have been restricted in their communications with the school can also be advised to ask a third party to act on their behalf, such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
If a complainant persists to the point that the school considers it may constitute harassment or a risk to the safety of staff, legal advice (from LA Legal Services where the school has purchased this traded service) should be sought as to next steps. Different procedures apply to Freedom of Information (FOI) and Data Protection (DP) correspondence. The school should consult the relevant LA officers about these. More information about dealing with vexatious requests for information is available on the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website and the office can be approached for advice.
Adequate records must be kept of all contacts with unreasonably persistent complainants and complainants behaving unreasonably. The information should be treated as confidential and only shared with those who may be affected by the decision.
Key information to be recorded includes:
- when a decision is taken to apply, or not to apply, the procedure following a request to do so by a member of staff;
- when a decision is taken to make an exception to the procedure after it has been applied, e.g. if extenuating circumstances subsequently come to light;
- when a decision is taken, and the reason, not to put a further complaint from the same complainant through the complaints procedure;
- when a decision is taken not to respond to further correspondence, having made sure that any further letters, faxes, e-mails, etc. from the complainant do not have any significant new information;
- Future Complaints by the same Complainant
When/if the complainant makes a complaint about a new issue this should be treated on its merits. Complainants have a right to have any new complaint heard and failure to respond at all to a complaint could mean that the school is failing to comply with its legal obligations. The school needs to ensure that they are acting reasonably and that any genuine complaint can still be heard. When the behaviour of the complainant has previously been determined as ‘unreasonable complainant behaviour’ a decision will need to be taken on whether any restrictions which have been applied before are still appropriate/necessary.
- Reviews of Decisions
Reviews of decisions to restrict a complainant’s contacts, or the School’s responses to those contacts, should be carried out in accordance with agreed timescales or at least every six months by the Headteacher and Chair. If no further contact has been received from the complainant over a period of six months, consideration may be given to cancelling the restrictions. However, urgent assessment will be necessary to re-introduce them if behaviour which led to the original decision recommences.
The Complainant may request that the Governing Body review the decision of the Chair and Headteacher by submitting their reasons in writing. The Governing Body will consider the decision at their next meeting.
- Barring from the School Premises
Although fulfilling a public function, schools are private places. The public has no automatic right of entry. The school will therefore act to ensure it remains a safe place for pupils, staff and other members of their community.
If a parent’s behavior is a cause for concern, a school can ask him/her to leave the school premises. In serious cases the school or the local authority can notify them in writing that their implied licence to be on school premises has been temporarily revoked, subject to any representations that the parent may wish to make. The school should always give the parent the opportunity to formally express their views on the decision to bar in writing.
The decision to bar should then be reviewed taking into account any representations made by the parent and either confirmed or lifted. If the decision is confirmed the parent should be notified in writing, explaining how long the bar will be in place.
Anyone wishing to complain about being barred can do so, by letter or email, to the Headteacher or Chair of Governors. However complaints about barring cannot be escalated to the Department for Education. Once the school’s own complaints procedure has been completed, the only remaining avenue of appeal is through the Courts; independent legal advice must therefore be sought.