External complaints mechanisms, including human rights bodies

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There any many different bodies that can respond to complaints about publicly funded institutions including schools, government bodies and other individuals and organisations.

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When can you use an external complaints mechanism?

If you have exhausted the complaints processes available to you through school, the DET, the Catholic education system or the VRQA (for independent schools), you can approach the Victorian Ombudsman or a range of other complaints bodies, listed below.

You can approach any of these bodies at any time. However, depending on your complaint, they might ask you to use the complaints processes within the relevant school system – if you have not already done so – before they can act.

You are also entitled to seek legal advice and representation if you wish. If you do so within the government school system, bear in mind that the DET complaints policy will no longer apply, and your matter will be referred to lawyers representing DET. This is not the case if you approach an external complaints body.

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Another option: mediation

Mediation can be helpful if you are still working through the school complaints process, but communication is proving difficult between you and the school. A mediator is a neutral third party with skills in helping people find solutions to difficult issues or conflicts. You, the school, DET or anyone one involved can request mediation. Everyone needs to agree, before mediation can take place.

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The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (‘the Commission’) provides an impartial, flexible and free dispute resolution service, to help people resolve discrimination complaints. The Commission can help with concerns or complaints about any individual, any school or training organization, about DET, institutions in the Catholic education system, or any organisation associated with your child’s education and support services.

Not every issue between parents or carers and their child’s school or other organisation will be a discrimination complaint (and thus something that the Commission can help you with), but many are. If you are not sure, you can contact the Commission informally, to discuss your concerns and seek their advice.

Discrimination that is against Victorian law can be on the basis of disability or perceived disability, age, carer and parental status, physical features, race, sex and many other characteristics, including personal association with someone who has one of these characteristics (e.g. as a parent or carer of a child with a disability). There are various exemptions to discrimination laws, usually to allow special measures to help disadvantaged groups, such as students with disabilities. The Commission also takes complaints about sexual harassment, and racial or religious vilification.

  • Visit the Commission’s website and click on ‘Lodge a complaint’ to read about the different types of discrimination that the Commission can receive complaints about, and exemptions.

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Contacting the Commission and making a complaint

You can contact the Commission at any time to seek advice, without making a complaint or giving identifying details. Complaints can be made in any language, and an interpreter can be provided. Commission staff can also assist you to complete your complaint form, if needed.

If you choose to lodge a complaint about your child’s school or another body, the Commission will offer you and the other party a dispute resolution process called ‘conciliation’, through which they will help you and the other party to: identify the disputed issues, develop options and consider various alternatives, and try to reach an agreement. The process might include separate meetings or phone calls with you and the other party, asking for your written input, and one or more meetings between Commission staff, you and the other party.

This approach is often successful, and feedback shows that users find it fair, informal, easy to understand and that it often gives everyone involved a better understanding their rights and responsibilities. Outcomes might include things like: an apology, financial compensation, a change of decision, a change of policy, agreement about how such issues will be dealt with in future, or an agreement to undertake training.

  • To find out more, ring the Commission helpline on 1300 292 153, or lodge a complaint via their website.

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Complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman

The Victorian Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Victorian Parliament, whose role was created under the Victorian constitution. Her office provides a mechanism for people to appeal against the actions or decisions of government, or any government-funded agency. This includes all Victorian schools and education providers, including government schools, Catholic schools, independent schools, TAFEs and registered training organisations.

If you make a complaint to the Ombudsman, she has very wide powers to look into the matter, tell you what occurred, and decide whether it was reasonable or unreasonable. However, she cannot represent you, advocate for you, or act on your behalf. The Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints related to breaches of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

If you contact the Ombudsman but have not already used the existing complaints processes in the schools systems, she might ask you to do this first. If you have used them but are unhappy with the response, or if there has been an undue delay, you can contact the Ombudsman. If the Ombudsman decides not to investigate your complaint, she will tell you why, and might refer you to another dispute resolution body that can advise on alternative approaches.

If the Ombudsman investigates your complaint and finds that it is substantiated, she can recommend action to the body that you complained about, and will inform you about the outcome of your complaint. Many complaints are partially or fully resolved through the intervention of the Ombudsman. She can also commence her own investigation into a matter without receiving a specific complaint, can invite submissions from individuals, groups, agencies and members of the public, and can make recommendations to the Victorian Parliament based on her findings.

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Complaints about fees and charges

By law, enrolment of students with a disability must be ‘on the same basis’ as other students – so school fees must not be higher for students with disabilities. Nor can the cost of ‘reasonable adjustments’ be passed on to families in any school. If you have a complaint about fees and charges and you are unhappy with the school’s response, you can approach Consumer Affairs Victoria.

  • Call Consumer Affairs Victoria’s helpline on 1300 558 181, or make a complaint via their website.

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Complaints about teachers

Teachers must be registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) to work in a Victoria school. VIT can investigate complaints about teachers in all Victorian schools.

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Complaints about training organisations

Many older students study in TAFE or other training organisations. The VRQA is responsible for handling complaints about training organisations registered with them, including TAFEs – search for your training organisation on the State Register which is available on the VRQA website. If you did not find the organisation you are looking for, search on the Australian government’s Department of Industry skills website at training.gov.au, to find the relevant authority to which you can lodge your complaint.

  • Visit the VRQA website, and click on ‘complaints’ or search for ‘State Register’.

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Complaints about apprenticeships and traineeships

The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) is responsible for monitoring the compliance of employers, apprentices and trainees with their obligations under their training contract and relevant laws. They do so through their field services agency, BUSY At Work. Contact VRQA if you have a concern, and they can send out an authorised officer to discuss the matter.

  • For information phone 1300 722 603 or visit the VRQA website – search on ‘Apprenticeships Field Officers’.

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Complaints about privacy

If you have concerns about privacy, and the way private information about your child or family is handled by your child’s school, DET or other agencies, you can contact the Office of the Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection (previously Privacy Victoria).

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