What do we mean by 'complaint?'
If your child has a problem at school you should be able to sort it out through an informal discussion with your child's teacher. See school contact details. If you can't resolve a problem informally the school should have a formal complaints procedure that you can follow.
Generally a school complaint is any communication made by a person with a legitimate interest in the school, a parent for example, who expresses dissatisfaction about the standard of teaching, or about the conduct of members of staff employed at the school. The feedback received from complaints helps schools as they strive to improve services.
Do all schools use the same complaints procedure?
No. Ask your child's school for a copy of their complaints procedure so you know what steps you need to take to progress your complaint and what timescales you should expect the school to adhere to. From 1 September 2003 Governing Bodies of all maintained schools and maintained nursery schools in England are required, under Section 29 of the Education Act 2002, to have in place a procedure to deal with complaints relating to the school and to any community facilities or services that the school provides. The law also requires the procedure to be published.
Who do I complain to?
The school itself. There are generally three main steps in making a complaint.
Stage 1 (informal)
It is always useful to talk through your complaint with an appropriate member of school staff. In primary schools the person to contact initially is usually your child's class teacher and in secondary schools you may contact the form tutor or head of year. See school contact details.
The school may request that you make an appointment to discuss this matter, as this will ensure they can to listen to your concerns fully and allocate an appropriate amount of time for the conversation. Hopefully your concerns can be addressed at stage 1. However, you may progress this matter further if you remain dissatisfied with the outcome of stage 1.
You are required to put your complaint in writing to the headteacher (or the Chair of Governors if the complaint is about the headteacher). This should be acknowledged in writing by the school with an indication of the timescales that will be followed. The headteacher (or Chair of Governors) will then investigate your complaint and respond to you directly. If you remain dissatisfied at stage 2 you may escalate the complaint to stage 3.
You are required to make a formal complaint in writing to the Governing Body. You should contact the school's Chair of Governors outlining your concerns. These will be investigated by either the Chair of Governors or a Governing Body Complaints Committee, depending on the nature of the complaint. You should send the documentation you have from stage 2 for their information.
Correspondence to the Chair of Governors can be handed in at the school office and it will be forwarded on. Alternatively, the letters can be sent c/o Governor Services, Room 400, Children's Services, Civic Centre, Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8PU, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
What if I remain dissatisfied after I have been through each stage of the school complaint's process?
Stage 3 is the last school-based stage of the complaints process. However complainants have a lawful right to approach to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families if they believe that the Governing Body is acting, or proposing to act unreasonably. The Secretary of State would only follow up a complaint if they believed the school had either acted unreasonably or failed to carry out a statutory duty. This should be a last resort, and you should highlight the steps you have already taken to resolve the problem. You should be aware that the Department for Children, Schools and Families will not usually be able to investigate a complaint if the child no longer goes to the school where the incident took place.
The address to write to is:
Secretary of State for the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)
Great Smith Street
The role of the Secretary of State
The 2002 Education Act states that the Secretary of State may not consider any national curriculum or collective worship complaints unless they have first been considered under the Local Authority's arrangements for handling complaints. The intention of this provision is that complaints should, if possible, be dealt with and resolved between the parties responsible.
The DCSF are currently consulting on a new way of handling parents' complaints about school issues. This website will be kept updated as and when new legislation becomes available.
Complaining to Ofsted
The Education and Inspections Act 2006 gives Ofsted new powers to investigate complaints from parents about schools.
From April 2007 Ofsted was given the powers to investigate certain types of complaint from parents and carers about their child's school as a whole to help them to decide whether or not to inspect a school - though in most cases you should raise any problems with the school first. Types of complaint to which Ofsted can respond include:
the school is not providing a good enough education
the pupils are not achieving as much as they should, or their needs are not being met
the school is not well led and managed, or is not using its resources efficiently
the pupils' personal development and well-being are being neglected.
When considering a complaint, Ofsted can require the school or local authority to provide information, or require the school to arrange a meeting of parents to seek their views.
Ofsted can also record parents' concerns for consideration during the school's next inspection.
Where a complaint is very serious, Ofsted can arrange an immediate inspection of the school.
Ofsted are not in a position to judge how well the school investigated or responded to a complaint, or to mediate between a parent and a school to resolve a dispute.
How to make a complaint to Ofsted
Complaints to Ofsted about schools: Guidance for Parents or call the helpline on 08456 40 40 45
Local Government Ombudsman
The Local Government Ombudsman's current role is to look at any maladministration, or potential maladministration, on the local authority's part. This includes the way in which it handles complaints and its adherence to procedures.
Why are complaints referred to the governors rather than the Local Authority?
Under the Local Management of Schools legislation, headteachers are directly accountable to the governing body of the school, and not to the Local Authority.
Complaints and concerns must therefore be dealt with by the governors of a school, with guidance and advice from the relevant officers within the Local Authority/Diocese where they request it. The LA has no power to direct a school in relation to a complaint from a parent or pupil, unless there is a statutory basis for doing so (see below).
If a written complaint is received into the Local Authority 'prematurely' this will be forwarded to the school to deal with under their own procedures by the Complaints and Customer Relations Team.
Anyone making a telephone complaint to the Local Authority about a specific school will be transferred to the Governor Services section who will clarify the correct procedures and refer them back to the relevant school. Although Governors Services will inform the school about the contact received, the responsibility remains with the parent/carer to follow the correct procedure and raise the issue with the school themselves.
Are there any exceptions to schools' complaints procedures?
Some complaints are dealt with in a slightly different way. There are special arrangements if you want to appeal or complain about the following:
School reorganisation proposals
If you have any queries about the school complaints procedure or if your complaint relates to any of the above areas please contact the Complaints and Customer Relations team on 0191 277 7427.
Scope of the arrangements
The schools covered are all schools maintained by the local authority, which are:
First and primary schools
Middle and secondary schools
Special schools (which are not established in a hospital)
They do not cover nursery schools, Excelsior Academy, the Pupil Referral Unit or Newcastle Bridges (hospital school). For further information on how to complain about any of these establishments please do not hesitate to contact the Complaints and Customer Relations Team on 0191 277 7427.