What Can Parents Do?
We are often asked by parents how they can complain when their child’s school is undermining safeguarding. Fortunately there are well established procedures in place to deal with situations like this.
All schools will have a complaints policy that you can follow. This alarms a lot of people and some parents are scared about doing so. There is no need to be scared; it is not as scary as it sounds. By following this procedure you are fulfilling the duty of every adult to safeguard children. If we all do our bit and work together, we can keep children safe.
We have had some parents express concerns that the school will “take it out” on their child if they complain. This is not something that parents should worry about. Teachers, school leaders and governors are all expected to deal with complaints in a professional and confidential way. Failure to do so would be a serious breach of safeguarding it itself.
Steps 1-6: Informal Complaint
- Locate the Complaints Policy on the school website. This should be readily available. If by any chance it isn’t, request the policy from reception at school in person or email and ask for it. The email address will be on the website. The Department for Education (DfE) also have guidance on complaining to schools.
- Read the policy thoroughly. It may look complicated but they’re really not and it is there to help you and your child. Maybe read it together with your partner or a friend if you are not already familiar with complaint procedures.
The likely first step of the complaints procedure will be to deal with informally by ‘raising a concern’. Hopefully most issues can be resolved informally. The vast majority of schools are committed to safeguarding and will want to work together in partnership with parents and are committed to the welfare of all children. These are legal requirements as set out in Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) and Working Together to Safeguard Children (WTSC).
- Send an email or letter (and ensure you keep a copy) clearly and factually setting out your concerns with any supporting evidence. The complaints policy should tell you who to address the initial email to when first raising a concern. If it doesn’t, then address it to the head or the office email address. They will delegate to the most appropriate member of staff. Safe Schools Alliance have many template letters and factsheets to help with this initial contact.
It is very important that even at the informal stage that you create a paper trail. You should keep everything in writing, in case there is a need to escalate and a written record is needed.
- A likely response will be a phone call from the school and an invitation to attend a meeting. This is a de-escalation technique to avoid a formal complaint. However it should once again be noted that most schools will want to work with you. Most will genuinely have the children’s welfare and best interests at heart.
It is absolutely fine to discuss matters informally on the phone, but do keep a written record. Send an email afterwards confirming your understanding of the conversation and any actions agreed. If you are not comfortable speaking on the phone and would prefer them to email you, it is absolutely fine to say so.
- Face to face meetings are good and we would recommend you attend one if invited. However if you do not wish to and would rather keep it in writing, it is fine to say so.
If you attend a face to face meeting, take notes, you can take a partner or friend with you if you would like to, to take notes on your behalf. It is best to tell the school that you will be doing so first, so that they too can have a note taker if they wish. Afterwards send an email confirming your understanding of the meeting and actions agreed.
- Hopefully at this stage the concern will have been rectified and you will be happy with the outcome. If you are not though, you will need to escalate. If the concern you raised involves the safety or welfare of children it is very important that you do so. In cases where the school have not addressed a safeguarding concern it is your duty as an adult to log a formal complaint and ensure the relevant agencies are informed. Your relationship with the school is not more important than the safeguarding of children.
The important thing about a formal complaint is that it puts the complaint on record, so that it will be one of the things that Ofsted look at in their next inspection.
Steps 7-10: Formal Complaint
The complaints policy will set out how to make a formal complaint. It will probably be in two or three stages:
- Stage one is likely to be writing clearly to the headteacher stating that this is a FORMAL COMPLAINT. (Or there may be a form to fill in). If you are seriously concerned about the welfare of children in a state school also copy in Ofsted on email@example.com or use this Ofsted contact form. Ofsted will then be able to alert any agencies that need to look at safeguarding.
- Again you may be invited to a meeting. Again, do attend: be clear though that you want this dealt with as a formal complaint. Do not agree to the school downgrading it to informal or a ‘concern’ as you have already tried that. Ofsted will not review informal complaints and concerns. They will review formal ones. Be clear that you want the resolution to the formal complaint in writing.
The complaint should have now been taken seriously and resolved as headteachers should have a good understanding of safeguarding. If by any chance you are not happy with the outcome you will need to proceed to stage two.
- Stage two is likely to be writing to the Governing Body, though again check the complaints policy for your particular school. If you have got to this stage you need to be clear that you want all responses in writing. Continue to follow up any meetings/telephone calls with emails, always take somebody with you to take notes and as a witness at any meetings.
- School complaints policies will generally have two or three stages. In the unlikely event the school has not resolved your complaint by the end of these stages you will need to pursue the complaint. This is where it will be imperative that you have a detailed paper trail of your efforts to resolve the issues. Your options for pursuing the complaint further are:
Contact the DfE
If the school is an academy, write to the schools funding agency (which should be listed in the schools complaints policy)
Contact your MP for support
Take legal action including applying for a judicial review.
If you are at the stage of thinking about legal action about a serious safeguarding concern email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. We may be able to assist.
Whistleblowing / press
- Safeguarding failures in schools are a matter of public interest.
If you do feel you would like to whistle blow to the press about safeguarding issues, contact us. We may be able to broker you doing this anonymously.