The UK’s schools are amongst the most regulated entities imaginable, with issues such as safeguarding children a key focus for all interested parties.
As a result, it’s imperative that all maintained schools and nursery schools have published procedures for managing complaints, whether these come from children, parents, support staff or teachers themselves.
But what’s the best practice in this instance, and how can schools safeguard themselves when processing complaints?
The existing complaints procedure in schools
According to Section 29(1) of the Education Act 2002, all maintained schools and education establishments must provide concise and published procedures to deal with complaints.
These procedures must also be robust and consistently applied, in order to ensure transparency and fairness for both complainants and the subject of any accusations that are made.
The procedures must also be applied to all complaints that relate to any community facilities or external services that schools provide, particularly in instances where there are no statutory processes already exist.
The purpose of these guidelines is to create a shared and consistent practice for all maintained schools to adhere to, whist establishing a greater sense of understand amongst the relevant authorities.
This also helps schools to avoid common pitfalls and misunderstandings, which can often lead to complications and significant legal wrangles.
Understanding the difference between legal requirement and best practice
Under the aforementioned section 29(2) of the Education Act 2002, further language is used to distinguish between schools’ legal requirements and best practice advice.
For example, schools must “have regard for any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State” whenever creating its complaints procedures.
Even this creates something of a legal grey area, however, as the phrase “must have regard” does not mean that the DfE’s guidance needs to be followed to the letter. In fact, whilst it’s expected that schools will follow the best practice recommendations, establishments can apply alternative processes if there’s good reason to.
To help avoid any confusion and ensure that your complaints procedure meets its legal requirements, we’d recommend that you liaise with a specialist such as Browne Jacobson.
This will enable you to access real-time advice whenever you need it, whether you’re formulating a viable complaints procedure or dealing with an issue as it happens.
This will also help you to distinguish between a complaint and a concern, with the latter to be treated as “an expression of worry or doubt over an issue” that’s considered to be worth if providing reassurances.
In contrast, a complaint is recognised an “expression or statement of dissatisfaction”, either with an individual within the school or a particular practice.