Review: DfE’s Best practice guidance for school complaints procedures 2019

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“We are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed.”– Thomas Fuller

We live in a consumer culture and customer service is paramount to any sector. To demonstrate this The Institute of Customer Service reported that:

“Too many organisations are focused on short-term reporting and short-term gains, and both often come at the expense of the customer service agenda…On the face of it, the latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) yields the positive finding that the overall customer satisfaction score is up by 0.3 points from the same time last year, to 78.1 (out of 100). However, for the first time, the number of organisations whose score has decreased by two points or more is greater than the number whose score has increased by two points.”

While across the pond a studies on helpscout.com suggest that 51% of customers will never do business with a company again after one negative experience whereas another revealed customers will tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.

Consumer statistics can be translated to an educational environment to highlight that complaints can ultimately have a negative impact on school reputation, enrolment, funding as well as staff and student well-being. Further, wherever your school is on its journey there is always room for improvement and better complaints handling may also allow your schools to identify areas of improvement.

Recently the DfE published Best practice guidance for school complaints procedures 2019 this  guidance aims to share and encourage best practice and help schools avoid common pitfalls.

We have reviewed this guidance and it does a great job of balancing legal compliance with best practice, for instance it promotes these 7 factors which we’ve compiled into a checklist.

Make sure that your complaints procedure:

  • is simple to understand and use
  • is impartial
  • is non-adversarial
  • enables a full and fair investigation
  • where necessary respects confidentiality
  • addresses all the points at issue and provides an effective response and appropriate redress, where necessary
  • provides information to the school’s senior management team so that services can be improved

As education lawyers we also agree with the guidance that:

  1. resolving complaints at the earliest possible stage is generally considered in everyone’s best interest;
  2. features dynamic communication between the school and others; and
  3. setting out the process to be followed practically is very helpful for both school staff and the community the school serves.

Finally, be aware that not all challenges encountered by a school can be resolved through a general complaints policy – exclusions, staff grievances, and disciplinary procedures have niche processes to bring resolve and in other instances there is a specific organisation that deals with specific queries and these are listed here.

Developing a comprehensive and robust complaints procedure can save your school money in the future – why not ask us how?

For more information on this, or any other education legal issues you’re interested in, please call Tony McPhillips on 0191 211 7908 or email [email protected].