Addressing Parents’ Concerns And Complaints Effectively .

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Addressing parents’ concernsand complaints effectively:policy and guidesOffice for Government School Education

Published by the Group Coordination Division,Office for Government School Education,Department of Education andEarly Childhood DevelopmentMelbourneApril 2009 State of Victoria (Department of Educationand Early Childhood Development) 2009The copyright in this document is owned by theState of Victoria (Department of Education andEarly Childhood Development), or in the case of somematerials, by third parties (third party materials).No part may be reproduced by any process except inaccordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act1968, the National Education Access Licence forSchools (NEALS) (see below) or with permission.An educational institution situated inAustralia which is not conducted for profit,or a body responsible for administering suchan institution, may copy and communicate thematerials, other than third party materials, for theeducational purposes of the institution.Authorised by the Department of Education andEarly Childhood Development,2 Treasury Place, East Melbourne, Victoria, 3002.ISBN 978-0-7594-0540-0AccessibilityIf you would like to receive this publication in anaccessible format, such as large print or audio, pleasetelephone 1800 809 834, or email [email protected] document is also available in PDF format on theinternet at

ForewordThe Victorian Government’s Blueprint for Education and Early ChildhoodDevelopment recognises that involving parents in their child’s education is critical tochildren’s development and learning. It emphasises fostering positive relationshipswith parents and families and developing strong school community partnerships.The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development also recognisesthat in all partnerships there will be times when there are disagreements and issuesof concern that will need to be resolved. The Addressing parents’ concerns andcomplaints effectively: policy and guides supports the Blueprint by articulatingthe Department’s approach to dealing with parent complaints.The policy provides advice for schools to assist them in developing school-levelparent complaints policy and procedures. The guides are for use by school staff andare of practical assistance in communicating effectively with parents.Some concerns raised by parents are complex; however in all cases an open,consistent approach that is courteous, efficient and fair best addresses parentconcerns. Such an approach provides opportunities to build partnerships betweenschools and families.Implementing this policy will support school improvement and I look forward toeven stronger school community relationships developing in Victorian schools.Prof, Peter DawkinsSecretary

ContentsSection A: About the policy and guidesIntroductionAimsAbout parents’ concerns and complaintsApplicabilityPolicy framework222233Section B: Concerns and complaints policy4ExpectationsConcern or complaint management processAnonymous complaintsUnreasonable complainant conductCommunicating and monitoring the parent complaints policySummary of roles and responsibilities4510101114Section C: Advice for schools when developing concernsand complaints policy and procedures16TitleThe school’s valuesConcerns and complaints covered by the proceduresOwnership and scopeExpectationsRaising concerns or complaintsHelp with raising concerns or complaintsManaging parent concerns and complaints informationAddressing concerns or complaintsRemediesReferral of concerns or complaintsCommunication and trainingMonitoring the parent complaints policy16161617171818191920202021Section D: Guides22Introduction1. Building positive relationships2. Dealing with a complainant3. Improving your listening skills4. Saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ with confidence5. Understanding the blame cycle6. Managing a request for an apology7. Moving beyond a stalemate8. Encouraging fair play in negotiations9. Managing aggressive reactions10. Managing unreasonable complainant conduct11. Responding to strong emotions12. Managing confrontation13. Managing your anger14. Being calm in a high-stress situation222324262729303134363740414345

Section A:About the policy and guidesIntroductionThis publication contains:the Department ofEducation and EarlyChildhood Development’s(the Department)policy and proceduresfor addressing parentconcerns and complaints(including advice forschools to developtheir own concerns andcomplaints procedures)and fourteen guidesthat provide practicaladvice for principals,teachers and othereducational personnelabout issues to considerwhen implementing theDepartment’s policy anda school’s procedures onmanaging complaints.The policy and guides were developed in response to a 2005 review by OmbudsmanVictoria of the then Department of Education and Training’s handling of parent complaints.The Ombudsman recommended that the Department ‘review its guidelines for managingcomplaints in schools and regional offices to ensure a balance between the rights ofcomplainants and officers’.The policy and guides support the Department’s objective of strengthening the qualityof its service delivery and responsiveness to the community. The Department uses theinformation provided through its concerns and complaints procedures as an opportunityfor continuous improvement of its services and performance.AimsAs a result of implementing the policy, the Office for Government School Education, its centraldivisions, regional offices and schools will have procedures in place to address concerns andcomplaints promptly, consistently and fairly.The guides will assist Department staff to confidently address the concerns and complaints ofparents about their child’s education.About parents’ concerns and complaintsParents’ concerns and complaints most commonly relate to: the management of an incident between students at a school the educational or other progress of their child the development and implementation of school and general education policy.‘Parent’ in the policy has the same meaning as in the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, which is:‘parent’, in relation to a child, includes a guardian and every person who has parentalresponsibility for the child including parental responsibility under the Family Law Act 1975of the Commonwealth and any person with whom a child normally or regularly resides.For the purposes of the policy: a ‘concern’ is an issue of interest (because of its importance and effect) which is raisedinformally in order to improve or change a situation. For example:I believe that the school’s physical education policy and program is inadequate.I don’t think that it caters for students who have well-developed skills and who need tobe involved in competitive sport. I think the school should review its policy in this area. a ‘complaint’ is an expression of grievance or resentment where the complainant isseeking redress or justice. For example:My daughter has been left out of the school’s netball team for the third time in a row.She is an accomplished netballer and deserves to be part of the team. It is not fair thatshe is left out and I want you to do something about it!Addressing parents’ concerns and complaints effectively: policy and guides2

ApplicabilityThis policy applies to the Office for Government School Education, including itsdivisions, regional offices and schools.The policy does not apply to matters about which there are existing rights of(and processes for) review or appeal. If, at any stage, it becomes apparent thatthe concern or complaint relates to such matters, the relevant procedures shouldbe implemented immediately.This policy is not applicable where a complainant has employed another party torepresent them, such as a solicitor. In these circumstances, the concern or complaintshould be referred to the Department’s Legal Services Branch for their assessment.However a complainant is entitled to an advocate who can be a friend or colleague ora person provided through an appropriate support agency who does not receive a feefor service.Policy frameworkLegislative and regulatory frameworkAll concerns and complaints must be addressed in line with the Department’s legislativeand regulatory framework, which includes the: Education and Training Reform Act 2006Education and Training Reform Regulations 2007Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006Information Privacy Act 2000Wrongs Act 1958.Dignity and respect statementConcerns and complaints must be addressed in line with the Department’s 2006 Dignity andRespect Statement. The statement says that:The Department is committed to providing safe and supportive work environments where diversity isvalued and everyone is treated with respect, fairness and dignity.Discrimination, sexual and other forms of harassment, bullying, violence and threatening behaviourare unacceptable.All employees, students, parents and visitors in schools and other Departmental workplaces areexpected to act accordingly.The Department (which includes schools) and school councils, will act to ensure that the safety,security, health and wellbeing of all employees, students, parents and visitors in schools and otherDepartmental workplaces are protected.Code of conduct for Victorian teachers and public sector employeesAll staff must observe the code of conduct for the Victorian teaching profession or publicsector employees. The codes can be found on the following sites:Victorian Teaching Profession Code of of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector

Section B: Concernsand complaints policyExpectationsConcerns and complaintsare best addressedby students, parents,teachers, principals andsupport staff workingin partnership.The Department expects that all parties will, when addressing concerns and complaints: maintain the confidentiality of all parties, in line with Departmental policy and legislativerequirements acknowledge that their common goal is to achieve an outcome acceptable to all parties act in good faith and in a calm and courteous manner show respect and understanding of each other’s point of view and value difference,rather than judge and blame recognise that all parties have rights and responsibilities which must be balanced.Principals should ensure that parents are aware of their right to advocacy whencommunicating the issues involved in their complaint and in negotiating an outcome.Refer to the parent complaints entcomplaint.htmIn addition to the expectations of all parties above, the Department will address complaints: courteouslyefficientlyfairlypromptly, within timelines agreed with the person with the concern or complaint(where possible concerns or complaints should be addressed within 20 school days) in accordance with due process and where appropriate, the principles of natural justiceand the Department’s regulatory framework.Addressing parents’ concerns and complaints effectively: policy and guides4

Concern or complaintmanagement processFigure 1 shows the process by which aconcern or complaint made to a school bya parent about any aspect of their child’seducation will be addressed.Figure 1: Concerns and complaints management processParents’ concern or complaintSchool principal determines appropriate processSchool procedures toaddress concerns andcomplaints initiatedLegislated complaintsprocesses initiated(see Victorian GovernmentSchools Reference Guide– Human ResourcesComplaints Resolution)Regional office supportavailable to addresscomplex complaintsOUTCOME- Complaint resolved- Complaint dismissed- Complaint addressedCentral office (Groupcoordination division)review of unresolvedcomplaintsOUTCOME- Complaint resolved- Complaint dismissed- Complaint unresolvedreferred to appropriateexternal agency – e.g.Ombudsman VictoriaOUTCOME- Complaint dismissed- Complaint resolvedunsatisfactory performanceprocedures commenced- Serious misconductprocedures commencedParent concern or complaintA parent can raise a concern or complaint about any aspect of a school’s operations. In thefirst instance, they should take a concern or make a complaint to the school. Any complaintraised with the regional or central office that has not been raised at the school level will bereferred to the school for resolution (unless there are special circumstances which preventthe school from managing the complaint).School principal determines appropriate complaint procedureConcerns and complaints relating to a school are most effectively addressed by the school.A school must make every effort to resolve a concern or complaint related to it beforeinvolving other levels of the Department.After due consideration of the issues raised by the complainant a school principal is todetermine the most appropriate way to address a concern or complaint, either by: using the school’s general concerns and complaints procedures, or as outlined under legislated and other complaints processes (see page 7).Also see the Human Resources website ct.htm5

School’s policy and procedures to address concerns and complaintsIn line with Departmental policy, the Department requires a school to: develop policy and procedures to address concerns and complaints, in collaboration withparents and the school community, that respond to the nature and complexity of theconcern or complaint regularly make information about its procedures readily available to its community, inclear and easy-to-understand language and, where appropriate, in a range of communitylanguages and in formats that are accessible to everyone so that no-one is disadvantaged review its policy and procedures as part of the school council’s cyclic policy and proceduresreview schedule.A school’s policy and procedures to address concerns and complaints should be based on theadvice provided in Section C an