Parent grievances - School leaders oppose complaints ombudsman

27th February 2009 at 00:00
It could open the floodgates to serial complainers, warn heads' unions

Headteachers unions have voiced concerns over the Government's plans to create a system to deal with parents' and pupils' complaints.

Under new proposals put forward as part of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, parents would be able to appeal to the local government ombudsman if they felt their complaint had not been resolved satisfactorily.

But both the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) are worried that the new system will simply create more stress and work for school leaders.

John Dunford, the ASCL's general secretary, told The TES: "It's a huge sledgehammer to crack a very small nut. The Government has seen fit to put in place this massive architecture of ombudsman, which is a wild overreaction.

"It ignores the fact that many complaints are based wholly on the parent listening to (only) one side of the story. Schools already spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with complaints that take into account only the children's side of the story."

Mick Brookes, the NAHT's general secretary, said the new system should avoid creating more red tape and protect schools from "serial complainers".

"A complaint should be dealt with at classroom level, but if it ... does escalate then there should be a clearer system in place than the one that currently exists," he said.

"What worries me is the implied amount of bureaucracy. There are serial complainers out there, and you can easily see all of a heads' time being taken up by some of the more difficult parents."

Announcing the new system, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said an independent body was needed to handle matters such as bullying, temporary exclusions or special educational needs provision that could not be resolved in the conventional way.

"We believe the time is right to transform the current system for when parents want to complain about their child's school on individual issues," he said.

"Currently, if a parent remains unsatisfied, there is no independent body to approach. We want to develop a fair, transparent system for all. This includes schools and governing bodies, as the new service will support schools in their decisions where they are correctly reached."

The National Governors' Association welcomed the move towards an independent complaints body, but warned against overloading the ombudsman.

Phil Revell, its chief executive, said: "We think it is overdue that an independent complaints service should be available to parents, but I'm concerned that the local government ombudsman already has a heavy workload. There is evidence that the ombudsman is already taking time to deal with complaints from other areas of its remit."

The Bill had its second reading in Parliament on Monday, and will now go in front of a committee.

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