Aussie Educator

Resolving Issues

In many instances, children and their families pass through the whole educational experience without having to resolve any major issues. If you are really fortunate, you may have a completely trouble free experience. However, with your child in schools for up to 13 years, and likely attending more than one school, it is quite possible there will be some occasion when you will have at least a minor concern and possibly even an occasion when there is a major issue or concern.

It is in the best interest of all involved that any concern involving student, family and teacher[s] should be solved as soon as possible so that it does not become worse and create greater difficulty.

This page looks at a suggested process for achieving such a resolution and offers suggestions as to the best way this may be achieved.

Note that there is always a possibility of something being so major that the earlier steps suggested here may need to be bypassed and later suggestions taken up first. While this is possible - but hopefully never occurs - additional options are provided below. These are clearly marked with what they are intended to cover and when they should be considered necessary.

All schools operate under normal anti-discrimination and vilification laws, child protection laws and Family Court orders. All teachers are mandatory notifiers in relation to child protection. However, church run schools may have some level of exemption in relation to specific, religious beliefs.

Informal Complaints

  • Most instances causing concern in schools come from misunderstandings or incomplete understandings. In the vast majority of cases these will be solved by discussion with the school person involved with your child. This should be done as soon as a problem occurs rather than leaving it with the opportunity of becoming worse in the future.
  • If the concern involves your child and a teacher, or your child’s learning, then you should first make an appointment to discuss the matter with the teacher involved. Do not just turn up and expect to be able to talk to the teacher or staff member. Remember, they have a class which they have to work with. Staff members may be available during school hours, or during breaks or before or after school.
  • For very small concerns, it may even be possible to ring and talk to a staff member during one of their breaks, or even email them. However, it is often better to talk face to face.

Bullying

  • All Australian schools are required to have a Welfare/Discipline Policy which must be made available. Irrespective of the type of bullying, it should be covered by this policy and the procedures which are contained in it.
  • Any breach of this policy should be brought to the attention of the school, if they are not already aware of it. They will then take action in line with the procedures listed in the school policy. The only alternative to this should be if it falls under one of the “Other Options” as listed in the Contact Details section below.
  • There is also national information to be found on the Safe Schools Hub section of the Commonwealth Department’s website. You can find information on the National Safe Schools Framework, What to do if your child is being bullied, State policies, research, more.
  • Be aware that if children are involved in bullying, either as an instigator, bullier, or someone being bullied, specialist staff may be involved in the solution of the problem. This could include School Counsellors and other specialist staff. These can be requested by students and parents can make appointments to see them and discuss the problem which has arisen and what will be done to provide a solution for it.
  • In talking with a staff member, always work on the actual problem, not whether you feel upset or angry about it. Know the facts you want to talk about and concentrate on them. Write them down and take these notes with you if you are not sure you will remember them all. Think about how you will say the things you need to say. Using statements such as “I am concerned about …” or “Can you tell me why … ”rather than “You have to …” or “You haven’t done …” are much more likely to gain support and assistance.
  • Be prepared to listen to what the staff member has to say in response. There may be things about which you are not aware. There may be things you weren’t told about. There may already be things that are being done to solve the problem. You also need to be able to listen to what the other person has to say just as you would expect them to listen to what you have to say.
  • You should never be abusive ! Do not use bad language, do not be insulting. This is guaranteed to put people offside and makes finding a workable solution much more difficult. If you are really abusive, insulting or aggressive, it may even lead to you being banned from the school premises. This will only create a second problem rather than resolving the first one.
  • If you are not confident about meeting with a staff member, then it is possible to take a friend with you. While they need to know why you are going and what the problem is, they are only there to offer moral support and you are the person who is the one who must do the talking, not them.
  • If you agree on a course of action, then you must allow enough time for this to be followed through. There should be another meeting to finalise this once a reasonable period of time has passed. This can be arranged at the first meeting or by either party within a reasonable period of, or at a specific time after, the first meeting.
  • If you are not happy with the outcome of the meeting, or if you believe the matter is serious enough, you can make an appointment with a staff member’s supervisor or the school principal.
  • If this is the case, you should follow the same procedure outlined in the steps above. Be aware, that the supervisor may request that the staff member be present at the meeting. This may create extra tension, but the supervisor or principal should be skilled enough to handle the situation.
  • Do not expect the staff member to be admonished during this meeting. If you were in a similar situation to them, you would not be happy if this occurred. You could not expect them to feel any different. If there is a cause for them to be admonished then this would be done in a different setting and at a different time.
  • There are a number of options available at the school level and all of these will be considered as part of a plan to resolve the problem that exists. These may range from providing additional assistance for your child, additional supervision, moving the child to another class, working with the teacher on particular skills or any one of a number of others. The school will work with the method or methods which are seen as being best to help resolve the problem.
  • As previously, allow time for any action that is agreed upon to take place. Similarly to before, there should be a further meeting to ensure that the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all involved and that people are aware of and satisfied with the outcome.
  • If you are not happy with the steps the school has taken, or if for some reason you believe you need to go further without trying to resolve the problem at the school level, there are higher levels within all school systems where you can lodge complaints and seek to resolve them. Complaints would then become what are termed “Formal Complaints”.
  • Information regarding these is provided in the next section.
  • However, be aware that in most cases the complaint goes back to the school for information about what is happening, so they will know that a complaint is being made. If you have not tried to solve the problem at the school level first, this can cause further tension.
    In most systems, the particular authority makes the statement that the school level should the first point of contact and some indicate that it must be the first point of contact.

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Formal Complaints

  • All systems have both policy and procedures for handling complaints - whether it is called complaints, grievance procedures, dispute resolution, … . Even Independent Schools do, as this is part of the registration process.
  • In all cases of a formal complaint being made, it follows a set procedure. There are specific steps to be followed. This applies whether it is done in the government or any other system. These procedures are detailed either through a specific policy, a written set of procedures, working with a particular person, using a specific form, or any combination of these. You will either find the details of these or be made aware of them by the person you contact.
  • There are a number of levels above the school, depending on the system covering your child’s school.
  • Many of the things said in the Informal Complaints section still apply [no abuse, plan what you are going to say, know clearly what you want, … ]. In addition, we emphasise again that you must know exactly what the problem is and what you want as an outcome of the complaint. Be clear but realistic about what you expect.
  • Again, you will need to allow a period of time for the procedures to be followed, so that whatever is done will be fair to everyone involved, whatever the outcome.

Government Systems

  • Depending on the system the first level may be a District Office. This will have someone of a level such as a Superintendent or Inspector.
  • Most state systems have Regional Offices. These may cover schools directly, or be responsible for a number of districts.
  • All systems have a head office and a Director-General. There are web sites for these with all contact details available. Contact details for complaints to the Head Office of any system are provided in the Contact Details section below, listed under each state and territory. If you use these sites, you should also be able to find the contact details for either/both District and Regional Offices by using the Site Maps or Search boxes provided.
  • If you are not sure of who to ask for at a District, Regional or Head Office level, ask to speak to the person who is responsible for the school your child attends and indicate that you have a complaint you wish to talk to someone about. They may even have a specific person, or a section, that handles complaints.

Catholic Systems

  • The next level in the Catholic System is likely to be the School Council or further on a Diocese or Archdiocese Education Office, though it may also be a statewide body depending on the size of the system.
  • Again, if you are not sure of who to ask for at this level, ask to speak to the person who is responsible for the school your child attends and indicate that you have a complaint you wish to talk to someone about. They may even have a specific person who handles complaints.
  • While it is possible that members of the clergy may become involved, it is far more likely that the matter will be left to education personnel, unless there are specific reasons for not doing so.
  • Most Catholic systems have specific policies and procedures for the handling of complaints and in some cases particular people who will handle them. As with the government system, in most instance the complaint will go back to the school in order for them to respond to provide further information on what it includes, what is being done and what solutions are being sought.
  • If you are not sure about whom to contact a number of contacts are provided, where known, in the Contact Details section below, listed under each state and territory. The information may also be available through material from these offices which comes through the school, or be available on the school’s website, perhaps as part of the Links section.

Independent Schools

  • In most cases the complaints process stops at the school level. In fact, some Independent School Groups are quite specific about this. For example, “Independent Schools Victoria will not act as a mediator between parents and schools” is a very clear statement, though it is qualified by the explanation that they may assist by helping to clarify a school’s position.
  • Check with the individual school regarding their policy and procedures for handling complaints. Most should have these offered via their websites.
  • If the matter cannot be solved at the school level in an independent school, the only other options seem to be the individual School Board, an explanation from the state body where this is offered, or one of the other options listed in the Other Options listing given in the Contact Details section below.

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Contact Details

This section provides contact details for various educational departments and systems. In addition to providing contact details, many include advice, policy information and the procedures that will normally be followed should a complaint be made. Some simply provide a contact point or person. Be aware that contact would be considered only for when a complaint could not be resolved satisfactorily at the local level or when it is of so significant a level that it requires the involvement of other agencies without delay.

Additional links will be added as these come to hand.

Note that virtually all indicate you should contact the school prior to forwarding complaints to them.

States & Territory Information

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Catholic Education

As Catholic Education is run from a series of Catholic Education Offices, you will need to contact the relevant office listed below.

  • Complaints, Compliments and Suggestions
    ‘If you have a complaint, compliment or suggestion about any aspect of our services we’re keen to hear from you. We will deal with your issue thoroughly and fairly. We have a clear process for resolving problems and suggest you contact us as early as possible. Please select from the below links for details about who to contact if you want to discuss a problem, concern or would like to make a complaint.
    Schools
    TAFE NSW’.

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Northern Territory

  • New ! Complain about your school
    ‘This page has information if you have a complaint about your child's school, how the complaint is managed and contact details for government and non-government schools’. Links for other educational institutions.
  • Updated ! Complaints
    Policy, guidelines, Complaints form. All can be downloaded here.
  • Concerns or Complaints about your Child Care Service
    Overview, Who to contact, How your concern or complaint is managed.
  • Contact Us
    Catholic Education Office. Use these details to contact the Catholic Education Office regarding any concerns you may have.

Queensland

Catholic Education

As Catholic Education is run from a series of Catholic Education Offices, you will need to contact the relevant office listed below.

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South Australia

Tasmania

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Victoria

Catholic Education

As Catholic Education is run from a series of Catholic Education Offices, you will need to contact the relevant office listed below.

  • Ballarat
    Use the links for the nearest Service Centre - Ballarat, Horsham, Mildura or Warrnambool.
  • Melbourne
    Use links for the nearest Office - East Melbourne, Croydon, West Melbourne, Moorabbin East, Werribee.
  • Sale
    Contact the Catholic Education Office in Warragul
  • Sandhurst
    Use the links for the nearest Catholic Education Office - Bendigo, Shepparton, Wangaratta.
  • Complaints About Schools
    ‘It is essential that parents attempt to resolve any complaint with a teacher before approaching the principal and, if necessary, the Chair of the school board. Independent Schools Victoria will not act as a mediator between parents and schools’. Contact details provided.
  • Parent Complaints
    Department of Education and Training. ‘The Department has developed this information to assist parents when addressing concerns or making a complaint that is related to : the children’s service where your child is being cared for - see Parent Complaints - Child Care or Children’s Services, or your child’s education or their school - see : Updated ! Parent Complaints - Government Schools. We recommend that the children’s service, your child’s school or your local council be your first point of contact for raising any concerns. Most complaints can usually be resolved at this level’.
  • Parent Complaints - Further Resources and Information
  • Parent Complaints Policy
    ‘Ensure[s] all schools respond to parent concerns and complaints in an effective and timely manner’.

Western Australia

  • Anglican Schools Commission
    This opens to their Policies page. You will find relevant links for “Dispute and Complaint Resolution Policy & Guidelines for Implementation” [Workplace Relations] and “Allegations of Misconduct Against Employees in ASC Schools and Guidelines for the Interviewing of Students by Police” [Welfare].
  • New ! Complaints about Non-Government Schools
    Information from the Department of Education Services.
  • Complaints Management
    The ‘Disputes and Complaints Policy and Procedures’ for the West Australian Department of Education. It clarifies a range of issues and provides advice on ways to go about any complaint that may exist. There is a link to their Policy section.
  • Disputes and Complaints Brochure
    Can be downloaded from this site. ‘The purpose of this publication is to provide an overview of the process to be utilised in Catholic schools in the resolution of a dispute or complaint that may arise from time to time’. Catholic Education Office.
  • Dispute and Complaint Resolution
    Policy and procedures from Catholic Education, WA.

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Other Options

In some instances, it is inappropriate to contact a school first, though this is, thankfully, fairly rare. In these cases, there are a number of other options available and a number of these are listed below. However, ensure that they do fall into the categories listed below and cannot/should not be addressed at a school level in the first instance. Be sure of your facts. Only supply facts, not gossip, maybes, perhaps it happened, etc..

Contacting The Minister for Education, or Your Local MP

Sometimes these people will be able to assist but often their first response will be “Have you been to your local school ?”. In almost all cases, the complaint will then go back down the line to the school for comment and clarification of what has been done or will be done if they are not already aware of the problem. In this regard, you are perhaps unlikely to get a greater response than working through the various levels given above. Details for all Ministers of Education and MPs at state level can be found on government websites.

Discrimination

Disability, Racial, Gender, Religious, Marital and Sexual Discrimination is against the law and should never be tolerated. If it occurs within the school setting, then you should approach the school, make them aware of the situation and give them the opportunity to solve the problem.

Again, be aware that faith-based schools have been exempted from some parts of this process because of their specific religious beliefs.

If they are unable to do so, then there are a number of avenues which you can follow up including the formal complaint process above, or by going to :

Sexual Harassment

This area can include actions such as inappropriate gestures, language, communication and touching. This also includes use of the internet for communication that would fall into this area.

This is also against the law and should not be tolerated. If it occurs within the school setting, then you should approach the school, make them aware of the situation and give them the opportunity to solve the problem.

If they are unable to do so, then there are a number of avenues which you can follow up including the formal complaint process above, or by going to :

Physical & Sexual Allegations of a Serious Nature

In instances which fall into this category, contact should be made directly with the police.

Any Complaints Regarding Criminal Behaviour

In instances which fall into this category, contact should be made directly with the police.

Involvement of Ombudsmen

In many instances they are limited to specific areas such as public agencies and Freedom of Information on a larger scale rather than individual concerns which may be best handled by other agencies. However, as each is state based, these may vary and if nowhere else is able to assist and all other avenues have been exhausted, they may be worth considering. For individual state and territory ombudsmen, see the link above.

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