All schools and academies are required to have a complaints policy. It is the governing body’s responsibility to agree this policy. Guidance on developing complaints policies is available from professional associations. Guidance from Barnet Council was circulated to schools in 2002 in School Circular Issue 30 - Wednesday 6 May 2002. Additionally guidance is available to governors in the Guide to the Law.
In practice most school complaints procedures follow a three-stage process: concerns are first raised with the relevant staff member, can then be taken to the headteacher and if still unresolved a formal complaint can be made to the governing body.
If parents are dissatisfied with the decision of the governing body, maintained schools’ complaints procedures can refer them to the local authority. However, this practice is voluntary on the part of both the school and local authority, and is without specific statutory basis.
Within Barnet the Children’s Service will not normally investigate school complaints. The exception to this, in relation to maintained schools, is complaints about the provision of the curriculum and other matters under section 409 of the Education Act 1996 where the local authority has a duty to consider any complaint. Complaints under this legislation are rare.
For most issues relating to the conduct of the school, the next stage for parents who are dissatisfied with the decision of the governing body is to complain to the Secretary of State or to take action through judicial review in the courts.
The Secretary of State can, however, only consider complaints that a governing body of a maintained school is or has been acting illegally or unreasonably in respect of a statutory power or duty conferred on the governing body by education law. In practice, this means that except where there is a clear breach of a specific duty (for example, a school failing to have a complaints policy or a behaviour policy) there are few occasions when the Secretary of State is empowered to intervene.
Parents can also complain to Ofsted. Ofsted will investigate complaints after the schools or local authorities procedures have been followed. They will only investigate concerns that affect the school as a whole, for example that the school is not well-led and managed, or is wasting money. It will not investigate individual complaints. Ofsted Guide for parents is a valuable summary of what Ofsted can investigate.