Answers your questions

7th February 2003 at 00:00
Our fairly new head seems efficient but has a rather sharp manner with parents and resents any complaints, even reasonable ones, they make about school policies.

One dissatisfied parent has now written to our chair asking for a ruling, but our head says we have no status as a complaints committee because we have no complaints procedure. (It was her decision that we did not have a policy, her reason being that it is not yet law.) As a parent governor, I feel very concerned about this; surely we are there to ensure parents are decently treated? The complaint is a general one about policies.

I agree entirely with your sentiments, provided the complaint is a general one about a school policy. An additional proviso is that if the complaint relates to policies outside governors' powers - for example the day-to-day management of space, time and staff, the timetable, the teaching methods, which are the head's territory - you may have to negotiate the practical outcome as distinct from saying "this change should take place". Also, unless you have a proper procedure you have to be very careful about complaints on incidents involving individual staff members. In most of these cases you will have to accept that maintaining an orderly environment day by day and ensuring that staff behave well is the head's job, and that many times a head will act on a complaint without publicly embarrassing a teacher.

Although the law says we must all have a complaints procedure, it has not yet been given a starting date by the Department for Education and Skills.

That does not mean to say that you can't have one, though your head's opposition makes it difficult. Our school, like many others, has one.

However, the absence of a formal procedure does not mean that a parent cannot write to the governing body if he or she is seriously concerned about some aspect of school policy and has failed to get a satisfactory response. It would be more satisfactory to have an agreed piece of paper which sets out rights and responsibilities in the procedure, time limits, rules to ensure natural justice in hearings, and so on, and that could be a problem for the head as well as you because a complaints procedure protects all parties. To me that makes it very unwise not to have one.

But if a serious written complaint on a school policy comes to the chair of governors I think you must discuss it as an agenda item, giving full consideration to the responses and viewpoints of those concerned in the school and supporting them if you think the practice complained of is reasonable. If the matter concerned is clearly outside governors' powers you must say so, but again that does not mean that a wise head would not take heed of any concerns you may have as a body.

Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Send your questions to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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