If you are unhappy or worried about something at school, there are various ways you can raise the issue. Some of these are less formal than others.
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In many (but not all) cases, you might begin with a less formal process, such as raising a concern through a chat with the teacher. If you are not happy with the response, you might take your concern ‘up the ladder’ to the principal, or move to a more formal process of making a complaint.
Throughout Learning Together, we generally use the term ‘concern’ as shorthand to include both more and less formal ways to raise your issue; that is, to include all the approaches discussed below.
“I’d like to share with families that it’s important to trust your gut. If you’re noticing things that don’t feel quite right, and your child is sharing with you in the ways that they can, whether its through behaviour, or absconding, or whatever they might be doing … I think its important to trust your instincts as a parent, and to really value that. That’s an important tool.” Tania
Raising a concern – a less formal approach
Although raising a concern is less formal than making a complaint, a concern can be about something quite serious. You raise a concern if there is an ongoing situation that you want changed or improved. The concern might arise from something that has happened to your child, once or more often. But with a concern, you are not seeking ‘redress’ for a particular event, for example through an apology or reversal of a particular school decision. Here’s an example of a concern:
I am concerned that my child misses a lot of what the teacher says because he finds it hard to concentrate in a noisy classroom. I would like him to always sit up the front of the class.
A concern might be an issue that affects just your child, or one that also affects other students. For example:
I am concerned that children who are shy or less confident are not getting a chance to contribute in class.
I think that my child and others in his class are capable of learning to read, but they spend most of their time playing or learning ‘life skills’. They need to be challenged to learn other things.
In raising a concern, you might offer some ideas for improvement, or simply draw the school’s attention to an issue. You should certainly expect a response from the school, although this might not follow a formal complaints procedure, as set out in the school’s complaints policy. The response should lead to a satisfactory resolution of your concerns – if not, you have the option of taking it further, including making a formal complaint.
Making a complaint
Making a complaint is a more formal process. You make a complaint if you are unhappy about a specific incident or situation, and want the person or organisation involved to fix the situation in some way. For example:
I have been told my child will miss out on the swim carnival because no one is available to supervise her in the water. I request a meeting as soon as possible to discuss what can be done, so that she can participate.
All schools are required to have a complaints policy and procedures. It’s a good idea to be familiar with your school’s policy before making your complaint. It might be on the school website or in the family information booklet, or you can ask the school office for a copy.
You should expect a response from the school to your complaint, as laid out in their complaints policy and procedures. If you are unhappy with the response, you can take your complaint further.
“I think teachers do an amazing job and they’re so undervalued and all that. But I have to take on this role of advocacy, and I have to point out the inadequacies, because Ruby is my child and she’s got a right to this. So I’m always looking for ways to accentuate the positive, and build that relationship.
It’s been really worth it to see other people – students and staff alike – be challenged by Ruby’s disability, but to overcome it. Just to see Ruby’s normal, everyday participation – to not be so fearful. Not have that judgement that someone can’t learn because of their IQ. It’s been incredibly worthwhile.” – Denise
You give feedback when you want the school to know your views about something, but you are not seeking a particular response. Feedback can be positive or negative, and can help a school improve how they do things in future. You can give feedback unprompted, or in response to processes such as school surveys. You would not usually expect an individual response from the school to feedback.