Before raising your concern or complaint, you need to gather the relevant information, and use it to clarify the problem for yourself, and consider what outcome you want.
On this page:
- Gather and write down all the facts
- Ask for your child’s input
- Read the school’s complaints policy and know your rights
- Think about what outcome you want
- Inform yourself, and set a realistic but positive goal
- Find out more
Gather and write down all the facts
Your first step is to gather the facts. Writing these down can help you to clarify in your own mind what the issue is. Once you have all the facts in front of you, you can consider whether your concern is about:
- a particular issue or incident
- an aspect of your child’s program
- one or more of the school’s practices or policies
- the conduct or performance of a staff member, or
- a combination of these.
Gathering the facts will also help you to decide where and how to raise your concern or complaint.
“It’s been important for me to be his advocate, because if I didn’t do it, no one else would! I try and deal with people in the most positive way possible, and sometimes they don’t see solutions for [my son]. I might have to bring some in.
If there’s a problem, I try and go into meetings with a couple of solutions. One of the issues that my son has, was he started to pull out his hair, which was a nervous anxiety condition. I’d had that condition as a child, so I brought my own experience in, and I wrote a brochure about the condition, gave it to the school, and suggested giving him a necklace that felt a bit hairy – something that he could play with, to stop him from pulling out his eyelashes and hair.
They didn’t know about the condition, and they were really grateful, because many children suffer from hair-pulling and similar types of nervous condition. So it just made the teachers all aware, and the principal was really supportive.” Janet
Ask for your child’s input
Depending on your child’s capacities, they can often be a crucial source of information about the problem. If you can, ask your child about their experiences, and what they would like to happen. Ask them to tell you in detail about a problem, if they can, and ask them for any ideas they have about what might help.
Children and young people often express themselves in broad emotional ways (“I hate school”) but if you can support them to explore and express what is hard for them (“I can’t hear the teacher properly because its too noisy”, or “No one plays with me at lunchtime”, or “I just can’t write essays, even if I try really hard”) you will have a better idea of what the problem is and how to tackle it.
It might also be useful to speak with other parents or carers in your child’s class or at the school, to get their perspectives. But bear in mind the importance of privacy. Everyone has the right not to have private or confidential matters (such as information about diagnosis) discussed with others without their permission.
Read the school’s complaints policy and know your rights
All schools are required to have a complaints policy and procedures – you might find the school’s policy on the school website or in the families handbook, or you can ask for a copy from the office. Schools must make their complaints available to families on request, and in a language or format that they can read. Also look for school policies relevant to your issue, which can help you to make your argument.
It’s important to know your rights and those of your child. This will help you to know what you can ask for, and strengthen your confidence in discussions with the school. There are a few key documents that can help you to let the school know that you’re aware of your rights, if needed. The most important of these is the Commonwealth Disability Standards for Education, which all schools are obliged to meet.
- Find out more about your child’s rights, and your rights as a parent or carer.
Think about what outcome you want
Try to determine what you want to happen, as a result of raising your concern. Clarify this in your own mind first, and be clear about it in communications with the school. Consider the following key questions. You might not know all the answers now, but they should eventually be answered through your discussions with school.
- What is the main issue of concern to me? What is my child’s view?
- What do I want the school or others to do about it?
- Who should take action to fix it, and what should they do?
- When should these actions happen?
- Who will follow up on actions we agree to, and what will happen if they don’t?
Sometimes you will have a specific request. For example, if you are unhappy that your child is missing out on a particular activity at school, you might ask for an education support staff member (aide) to support them at that time. In other cases you might not have a particular solution in mind, but will want your child’s teacher or other staff to work with you and your child (and perhaps with expert input) to find a solution that works for everyone.
Inform yourself, and set a realistic but positive goal
As a parent or carer, it is your role to advocate for the very best outcome that can be achieved for your child. At the same time, you are most likely to succeed if your goal is realistic. That does not mean that you should simply accept the school telling you something is impossible, when you know it’s within your child’s rights and the school’s role.
The best way to address this is to inform yourself about your child’s rights and entitlements in the support system, and the expectations of what school should do. You can do this by reading resources like Learning Together (follow some key links below) and by talking with a support worker in an advocacy organisation like ACD. They can often help you to clarify what outcome would address your concerns, and help you understand what is a reasonable request.
Find out more
- A guide to the complaints process
- Consider what you want to say and how best to say it
- Possible outcomes of raising a concern or complaint
- How an advocate can help
- Contacts for advocacy organisations