Dealing With A Complaint

As a teacher dealing with complaints is something you need to know how to handle.

Being hit with a tidal wave of emotion is one of the many things teacher training doesn’t include or prepare you for.

Complaints come in all shapes and sizes and they are all different. In schools, the majority of complaints will come from parents. They make complaints because they are unhappy with the way their child has been treated or they are unhappy with an aspect related to the running of the school.

The primary focus of the initial handling of a complaint should be to resolve it and you must refer to your school’s complaints policy and procedure.

Sometimes a complaint can be directed at you that doesn’t relate to you and so will need to be investigated by a colleague, normally a senior leader. However, it is the responsibility of all teachers to respond to someone who wishes to make a complaint – even if the matter is then passed on to someone else to resolve.

However minor or insignificant it might appear, in the mind of an upset parent there is a problem and you need to take responsibility for getting it fixed.

If a complaint does come your way and it relates to an incident in your class then you should establish exactly what the complaint is about and what the person making the complaint (the complainant) would see as a satisfactory outcome.

The majority of complaints you receive as a teacher can be dealt with by way of local resolution and don’t require any third party involvement. You can normally deal with things swiftly and informally and so local resolution is the most appropriate approach. This might involve an explanation or result in an apology and this is best done face-to-face. Put mistakes right quickly and effectively.

A complaint could lead to a change to one of your classroom procedures or even in the day-to-day working of the school.

Sometimes though further work might be needed to look into the complaint and so you need to be professional, efficient and as a cool as a cucumber. As a rule, I always used to follow the CARPE model to manage any complaint taken from Robert Bacal’s book, If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like this Job. 

Although not written for teachers, this really useful method is perfect for for consistently handling upset parents. CARPE stands for: Control, Acknowledge, Refocus, Problem solve and Exceed expectations.

1. Control

Aim to establish an effective relationship with parents from the outset by taking control of a situation with language that isn’t emotive. This shows you are ready to handle their concerns.

2. Acknowledge

You then acknowledge and apologise and demonstrate that their concerns are important and you won’t be brushing them off.

3. Refocus

Next, refocus away from the parent’s emotions to the solution at hand, outlining how you’ll take care of it. This is where you need to be specific and tell parents what you are doing about their problem, and what they can expect and when. Be concrete.

Always keep your promises so if you say you’re going to telephone the next day with an update then make sure you do. If you say you will send an email then make sure it gets written and sent. Breaking promises undermines everything else you do and say.

4. Problem solve

Investigate, address the actual problem, solve the problem, and confirm that everything has been resolved to their satisfaction.

5. Exceed expectations

You should always consider some sort of follow-up action that will leave parents with a positive impression of you and the school.

When parents make a complaint, they can expect you to listen, to act in a fair and balanced way, and seek to put things right. If the complaint requires more of your time then always involve a senior colleague who can join you for any meetings that you hold. Ensure that a written record of what is said in meetings is kept and logged onto your systems.

As teachers it is vital to understand that at times, parents will feel under pressure, distressed or feel that they have to be determined in order to pursue their concerns. As a frontline teacher, you will get complaints but its important to distinguish between distress, frustration, forcefulness and unreasonable behaviour, i.e. anger.

Dealing with people helpfully, promptly and sensitively and taking into account their individual circumstances is paramount. Treat them impartially, with respect and courtesy and deal with issues objectively and consistently ensuring that decisions are fair. Remind parents that all complaints are handled in strict confidence and the school’s attitude to a pupil would never be affected by a parental complaint.

Complaints can provide valuable feedback to help teachers and schools improve what they do.


Best practice guidance for school complaints procedures 2019

NAHT provide guidance on handling parental complaints.

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