21st December 2015

Schools leaving children without a voice over complaints, Children’s Commissioner’s report finds

Report from the Children’s Commissioner for England published on 21 December 2015 reveals that schools are routinely leaving children unable to effectively make a formal complaint, with few schools having implemented the statutory requirement for complaints procedures.

  • Schools leaving children without a voice over complaints, report finds
  • Few schools implement statutory requirement for complaints procedures
  • Children’s Commissioner recommends improvements to school complaints

Too many children and parents are being left voiceless because schools are not giving them a platform to complain, a report from the Children’s Commissioner for England has found.

Schools are either not implementing formal complaint procedures or are failing to inform parents and pupils that they have one, the report Speaking up found. As a result, parents and pupils often struggle to make their voices heard and resort to paying for costly legal advice.

Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, said:

“It is disappointing that there are cases of parents and children who want to complain about something that is affecting them in school, but can’t because there is not a formal procedure.

“Schools have a legal obligation to have a complaints system in place, but this report has found that in many cases they simply don’t have one – or where they do, parents and pupils find it’s not advertised, or is ineffectual.”

The report detailed several examples were pupils suffered as a result of an inadequate complaints procedure:

  • A young student was reduced to tears when a member of staff revealed to other pupils that she was in care – the lack of a formal complaints procedure compounded her distress.
  • A parent who escalated her complaint that her son’s school was failing to meet his emotional needs was eventually told her son was to be excluded.
  • Another young student who complained about being bullied was given access to self-esteem classes – the arrangement, made without her being consulted, had made her question her self-esteem for the first time.

Anne Longfield added:

“I understand that schools have heavy and important workloads and that this may seem like an extra, unnecessary level of bureaucracy, but it is extremely important they deal with complaints properly. If children have a legitimate complaint, they should feel like they will be taken seriously and responded to.

“Where complaints systems exist, we found that they are rarely planned with the needs of children or parents in mind – young people and their parents often don’t know where to start.”

At present, schools are only required to provide their complaints processes ‘on demand’ from parents and others. In practice this means that they are often very difficult to access.

Another finding was that schools are not collecting data on complaints properly. As part of this inquiry, the Children’s Commissioner’s office requested basic information on the nature and outcome of complaints.

As a result of the report, the Children’s Commissioner is recommending that:

  • Schools should establish an open, positive culture where feedback and children’s views are valued.
  • Details of how to complain should be included as part of the agreements many schools require parents to sign up to when their children start at a school.
  • Information given to parents and carers should also cover the process for escalating complaints beyond the school
  • Schools & other statutory bodies should be required to collect of data on number and nature of complaints.
  • The Department for Education should release annual aggregated statistics on school complaints.
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