8th March 1996 at 00:00
Joan Sallis answers your questions

We have a formal complaints procedure involving a panel of three governors. But a number of complaints are still brought to my attention as chair, often in the form of copies of letters sent to the head. When I mention them to him, I find that he has usually dealt with them, presumably to the parents' satisfaction, since they decline the chance to have them formally raised with the panel.

Should I still report them to the governing body? In the past I have decided either to keep them to myself or perhaps share them informally with two or three close colleagues. I do this just as a check on myself, in case others might feel I am letting too many sleeping dogs lie or that we ought to monitor the situation in some way. Would you be happy with this?

I agree that one should not make a meal of the sort of minor concerns which nearly all governors get as they encounter parents in their daily round. Considering them all formally - even when parents seem satisfied with the school's response - would build up a mountain of negative matter which could in the end make staff less co-operative over more weighty complaints, or even devalue those complaints.

Assessing the seriousness of a concern brought to them individually is always a difficult judgment which governors have to make, especially parent governors; I have known cases where their conscientiousness in passing on any bit of criticism as it comes their way has actually reduced their ability to be good representatives in the long run. This is essentially the same problem as you have raised.

I would support the policy you have adopted - with a few cautions. First, I think you need to be very sure that the parents really are satisfied and have not been fobbed off - it is quite hard for them to take a complaint further if the head actively discourages them. For this reason, I feel that even more important than having a good complaints procedure is publicising it in the right way.

You might also sometimes want to take a closer look at the response from the school to judge whether you would have been satisfied with it.

Second, you should be watchful for too many complaints of a similar character or involving one member of staff especially often, since these might together constitute a general concern which would warrant at least treating one example seriously.

Finally, if there are a very large number in total, even if not individually that serious, it might lead you to ask yourself whether the school communication is poor or staff insufficiently accessible. Sometimes schools think they are very open but don't publicise it enough.

Drama is strong in our school. We thought we would get in real actors to do workshops for short periods. Is this a proper use of budget?

Yes, and a good one, if they are well-chosen, professionally supervised and comply with all the checks necessary for anyone who works in a school.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to Agenda, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171-782 3200.


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