Complaints processes in government schools

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Following the proper complaints process gives you a better chance of success. It will also help if you are unhappy with the initial response you receive, and wish to take your complaint further.

On this page:

This page outlines what DET expects of government schools in their handling of complaints, and what you can expect from your child’s school. However, how you go about raising your concern or complaint can also have a big impact on the school’s response, and the eventual outcome.

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DET expectations and your school’s policy

DET has clear expectations for how government schools should handle concerns or complaints. The most important of these are outlined in Core principles of the complaints process. DET also provides a detailed guide for schools to follow in responding to complaints; the key steps are summarised below.

  • You can download this guide from the DET website – search on ‘Addressing parents concerns’.

However, if you want to make a formal complaint to or about your child’s school, it’s important to read the school’s own complaints policy first. Following the school’s procedures when raising a complaint makes it more likely that problem will be addressed quickly, and at the local level. It’s also important to have followed the expected procedures (and have some proof that you have done so, e.g. minutes of meetings and copies of letters or emails) if, in the end, you are unhappy with the school’s response, and wish to take your complaint to the next level.

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An outline of the complaints process: first steps

It’s important to be aware that you have the right to raise a concern or complaint about any aspect of your child’s schooling or education. In the first instance, you should raise it with the school if possible. If you go first to the DET regional or central office, you will be referred back to the school to try to resolve the problem, unless there are special circumstances preventing this (for example if the complaint is about the principal or involves more than one school).

The principal will decide on the most appropriate procedure to follow, in accordance with the school complaints policy. The principal should ensure you have a copy of this policy, soon after you raise your complaint.

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Raising your concern with the right person

Different concerns or complaints should be raised first with different staff – see the link below for suggestions. Your school’s complaints policy should explain where to raise different issues, and who the central contact person is, if you’re unsure about who to talk to first. You can raise a concern or make a complaint through a phone call, an email, a letter, a one-on-one meeting with the principal or another staff member, or in your child’s SSG meeting. You might choose to begin with a less formal process of raising a concern, and if you are not satisfied with the response, then make a more formal complaint.

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Acknowledgement and timeframes

Once you have raised a concern or made a complaint to any staff member, they should act on it promptly. If you choose to make a formal complaint, the school should send you written acknowledgement of that complaint, and give you a timeframe for investigating it.

Investigation should be done as quickly as possible. However, if the issue is complex, involves many students or a range of issues, or requires advice from the regional office, the school might need more time to investigate. They should advise you of this, and keep you updated about progress on the complaint. Schools should attempt to resolve any complaint within 20 school days.

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Investigation and resolution

Investigating the complaint is the responsibility of the principal. They (and/or the assistant principal) will manage the process of investigating, and hopefully resolving, your complaint. The process should be prompt and fair for everyone involved – you, your child, any other students or families involved, and any relevant staff members. It should also respect the confidentiality and privacy of everyone involved.

The process should focus on problem-solving and finding a mutually acceptable solution. It might include:

  • asking you for more information about your complaint, in person or in writing
  • meetings between you and the assistant principal and/or principal, and any other staff involved
  • meetings with other parties concerned, for example with staff you might have complained about, or with your child, other students or other parents or carers
  • seeking advice from DET regional office staff, such as community liaison staff or SSSO staff with expertise in meeting the needs of students with a disability, or
  • mediation, if communication is difficult (see below).

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Support options: advocacy support and mediation

You have the right to an advocate or support person in your dealings with the school, including at meetings.

If communication is difficult between you and the school, a mediator might well be useful. A mediator is a neutral third party with skills in helping people find solutions to difficult issues or conflicts. You or the school can request mediation – free mediation services are offered by the Dispute Resolution Service Victoria. Everyone needs to agree, before mediation can take place.

The school should make you aware of these supports and options early in the process.

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Finding a solution

The school should work with you, to find mutually acceptable solutions that meet the school’s obligations (for example in relation to the rights of students with a disability) and balance everyone’s needs.

The school should communicate clearly with you about what solutions it can offer and what it cannot, perhaps due to its policies, government requirements on schools, or resource issues. You can offer your own ideas, based on your knowledge of your child’s needs and rights. Everyone involved should listen respectfully to all ideas offered, and try to work cooperatively towards a resolution that can work for everyone.

When you raise a complaint with school or the DET, there is a range of possible outcomes: that your complaint is resolved, your complaint is dismissed, or your complaint is unresolved (that is, you are unsatisfied with the response).

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Keeping records

The school should make a record of all concerns or complaints raised. Very minor complaints can be recorded in the staff member’s diary, but all other complaints should be recorded in detail, including: the name and contacts of the person complaining, the date and form of the complaint, a description of the complaint, who received it, what action was taken, and any recommendations for improvement to school policy or procedures.

It is also a good idea for you to keep written records of your dealings with the school and DET in relation to complaints, including copies of emails and letters, minutes of meetings and records of what has been agreed, and your own notes (for example in a diary) of relevant conversations. This can help you to remember what you want to say, to follow up on what was agreed, and to take your complaint further, if you are unsatisfied with the initial response.

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Further communication and follow up

The school should inform you and everyone involved, in writing, of the outcome of your complaint. They should also try to ensure that an issue that has been resolved once does not arise again. The school should discuss with you how they (and you) will follow up on agreed actions, and how any changes made will be maintained. Your child’s Student Support Group might be a good forum for ongoing monitoring of any relevant issues.

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Involvement from the DET regional office

Your school should make every effort to resolve your complaint. However, if an issue is complex or difficult, or involves more than one school, then DET encourages schools to involve the regional office.

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If you are not satisfied with the response

If you are not satisfied with the school’s response, you can take your concern or complaint to the next level – the regional DET office.

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