That's it - I'm going to turn the tables on complainers

29th September 2006 at 01:00
Sats results too good, headteacher too tall, burglar alarm too loud:the best of a decade's gripes from parents

I want to complain about the complaints I keep getting at school. I'm not talking about the usual stream all headteachers get, such as there being too littletoo much homework, insufficient lockers, the traffic congestion at the school gate, the litter around the schoo* I all of these "go with the job". I'm talking about bizarre complaints.

On the first day of the new academic year a local resident, who also happens to be a parent of a Year 11 pupil, said she had been woken by the school's burglar alarm at 2am.

She had found it difficult to go back to sleep and consequently felt tired.

This, in turn, caused a migraine which meant she had to take a day off work. She was therefore trying to claim "loss of earnings" against the school.

What did she think was happening? Did she think I was driving into school during the summer break, in the middle of the night, to set the alarm off just to annoy her? Tempting thought.

However, the reality is that the alarm sounded because there was an attempted break-in. I suspect that if the school's computers had been stolen and her son was unable to get on with his ICT course, I would have received a complaint about that too.

I also received a complaint that I am too tall. I'm 5ft 8in (I'm also over 45 so still work in feet and inches) and, while this might be a little tall for a woman, it is not exceptionally so. The parent who complained about my height said that it made it difficult for her daughter to speak to me because she was a short Year 7 pupil.I think the parent would like to see a height restriction for headteachers implemented.

The parents of a Year 9 child once complained to me about their son's Sats results, saying the results were too good. Their argument was that because their son was lazy and had gained good results without really trying, the school was placing him at a disadvantage as he started his GCSEs. The parents wanted to know if there was anything I could do to have the results downgraded because he hadn't tried hard enough.

I have been receiving and dealing with complaints for 10 years; on average, one a week. That amounts to a grand total of 400 - although some days it feels like more.

Nevertheless, experience has led me to believe that agreeing with the complainant usually has the most productive outcome.

For example, I agree the traffic congestion is bad at the end of the school day, I agree it is irresponsible of parents to park on the pavement when collecting their child and, yes, I agree it is not environmentally friendly to drive a car and that it would be more healthy to make the pupils walk home, etc.

Turning the complaint back is also effective. What do they want from me? If the solution is within my power to grant, I will grant it, just for a quiet life. But usually, I can't give them what they want and they eventually realise they are getting nowhere and go off to complain to someone else.

But the complaint about the burglar alarm was the last straw and I am now thinking about getting even by complaining to parents about their children.

In the coming year, some of my most common complaints to parents will be about them sending their child to school without a pen, or not wearing correct uniform, or their child bullying other children. Other complaints might include their child having ears that stick out, walking in an offensive manner along the corridor, not smiling often enough, or simply being irritating on too many occasions.

The writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a secondary head in central England

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