Policy last updated
30 November 2021
This policy sets out the requirements for schools with respect to management of parent complaints based on the Department’s Parent Complaint Policy. It also outlines the Department’s complaints framework and the various supports available to school staff when responding to parent concerns and complaints.
- This policy provides the key information required for schools to implement the Department’s Parent Complaint Policy — Victorian Government Schools
- Parent complaints are best managed at the local school level.
- Where a parent is not satisfied with the outcome or resolution achieved with the school they may contact the regional office. Parents have an additional opportunity for resolution by contacting the Department’s central office, if they remain unsatisfied with the outcome or resolution achieved at the regional office.
- Schools must develop their own local complaints policy. This is because the Minimum Standards for School Registration require all schools to have evidence of their local policy and procedures in relation to complaints.
- Further information on managing parent complaints, and conflict resolution in schools more generally, is available in the Resources tab.
The Department‘s Parent Complaint Policy Victorian Government Schools sets out the whole-of-Department parent complaint-handling framework, across all 3 tiers of the complaints process (school, regional office and central office). The Department’s Parent Complaint Policy is intended for all people who might need to access the Department’s parent complaint process, including parents, mature minors, school staff, regional office staff and central office staff.
The information provided in this policy and the associated resource material is intended to support school-based staff to act consistently with the overarching Department Parent Complaint Policy and to extract the key information specific to schools. However, school staff are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the full Department Parent Complaint Policy to develop a thorough understanding of how the Department manages parent complaints, across the 3 tiers.
Note: This policy does not apply to matters about which there are existing rights (and processes) for review and appeal, such as matters relating to criminal activities, fraud and corruption, legal claims, expulsions, and the year 6-7 transition process.
Additionally, schools enrolling international students are required to maintain an international student’s enrolment (to comply with student visa conditions) and appropriate student welfare support arrangements until the relevant complaints or appeals process is resolved. For further information, refer to International Student Program.
Schools must develop a local complaint policy which outlines the school’s policy and procedures relating to how the school manages complaints. The school’s complaint policy must:
- be consistent with the Department’s parent complaint policy
- ensure procedural fairness (in accordance with good practice and the minimum standards for school registration)
- include information on how to refer a complaint to the regional office if the complainant is not satisfied that their complaint has been resolved or addressed by the school, or if the complaint is about the principal and the complainant does not want to raise it directly with them.
- be accessible to the school community (in accordance with good practice and the minimum standards for school registration).
Schools can download a Complaints Policy from the School Policy Templates Portal (login required). Schools can modify the template to suit their local circumstances.
All schools receive and manage complaints on a range of matters. Complaints are best addressed in an environment where families feel able to raise issues concerning the education and welfare of students.
All schools are required to treat concerns seriously and welcome opportunities raised through complaints to change or improve practices and learning opportunities for students.
The principal is responsible for the efficient and effective organisation, management and administration of the school including the school’s complaint-handling processes.
Schools are required to:
- always consider their duty of care to the student or students involved in the complaint
- ensure teachers are advised about the complaint where appropriate
- develop and publish a complaints policy for their school which explains the processes at the school for raising concerns or complaints including:
- who to contact to raise a concern or complaint at the school
- actions upon receipt of a complaint
- timeframes for acknowledgement and resolution of a complaint
- potential outcomes
- escalation process if mutually agreed resolution is not reached (refer to the section below 'Three-step framework for managing parent complaints')
- keep written records of complaints which relate to the Child Information Sharing Scheme and the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme - refer to Child and Family Violence Information Sharing Schemes for further information
- for other complaints, keep a written record of serious, substantial or unusual complaints that require resolution actions and document all steps taken to achieve agreement
- train all school staff on the school’s complaint-handling procedures and provide development opportunities on complaint management.
The responsibility of the school is to work with the complainant (and student if appropriate) to achieve a mutually agreed resolution. When a complaint is raised, the principal (or delegate):
- acknowledges receipt of a complaint (verbal or written) within two school days
- speaks with the complainant to ensure they are aware of the school’s complaint policy, and to better understand the issues or problem. If the complainant has not raised the issue with the relevant teacher, the principal can ask them to initiate discussions with the teacher in the first instance, if appropriate in the circumstances.
Where the complaint cannot be, or isn’t appropriate to be, resolved with the teacher, the principal:
- provides a prompt response with indicative timelines relevant to the nature of the complaint
- speaks with the complainant to ensure they understand the problem and provides any additional support to help resolve the complaint
- acknowledges the goal is to endeavour to achieve an outcome that supports the best interests and wellbeing of the student and that is, where possible, acceptable to all parties
- advises the complainant how the complaint will be addressed
- provides updates throughout the process as agreed with the complainant
- seeks advice from appropriate units within the department and/or external agencies
- considers the wellbeing of students, teachers and other staff members
- in situations where further time is required, will consult with the complainant and discuss any interim solutions.
Where appropriate the principal:
- may arrange a meeting with the complainant, teacher/s and/or assistant principal
- discusses the school’s findings with the complainant in an attempt to reach an agreed resolution
- communicates to the complainant steps they have taken or intend to take to prevent a similar incident or issue from occurring again.
A complainant can have a support person to assist at any time in the complaint process.
A support person’s role may include:
- discussing difficulties the complainant is experiencing in relation to the complaint
- helping to develop a good working relationship between the family and the school
- assisting the complainant to understand department policy and guidelines and the resolution being proposed for the complaint.
A support person can be a family member, a friend, a community member or a person provided through a support or advocacy agency.
A complainant must advise the school or Department that they want to include a support person, advocate or another representative when making a complaint, and provide the name, contact details and relationship to the complainant of the nominated person.
Similarly, the school must inform the complainant when they intend to involve other people including Department staff to assist with the complaint process.
Failure to notify of the inclusion of third parties can result in the rescheduling or cancellation of the meeting.
Schools and complainants can engage the National Translating and Interpreting Service as required by calling 131 450.
Complaint management conduct
When addressing a complaint, all parties are expected to:
- be considerate of each other’s views and respect each other’s role
- be resolution focused
- act in good faith and cooperation
- behave with respect and courtesy
- respect the privacy and confidentiality of those involved, as appropriate
- operate within and seek reasonable resolutions that comply with any applicable legislation and Department policy.
This is consistent with the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees and conduct expectations are the same for all parties involved with the complaint.
There are a number of supports available to schools managing difficult, vexatious or malicious complaints. In these circumstances, principals should connect with their Senior Education Improvement Leader to discuss strategies for managing the complaint including options for communication plans and engaging with independent third party mediation and conflict resolution services, as appropriate.
Other Department supports are also available for schools including advice from the Legal Division where required.
Outcomes of raising a complaint with the school
The Department’s Parent Complaint Policy explains that outcomes are any actions consistent with Department and school values, policies and relevant legislation that are intended to support the student, family and school relationship, engagement, and participation in the school community.
Schools must provide complainants with an explanation as to the steps taken to resolve the matters raised.
When the school has exhausted all reasonable avenues and a mutually agreed resolution cannot be reached, the complainant may contact the regional office and request the region’s intervention to assist with resolution.
The school can also request the region’s assistance for support, including to engage a mediator or other conflict resolution service where appropriate.
Further information and guidance on conflict resolution strategies is available on the Resources tab.
Three-step framework for managing parent complaints
The Department provides a three-step framework to help resolve complaints, starting with the school.
If a mutually agreed resolution cannot be reached or the complaint is about the principal and the complainant does not feel comfortable raising the complaint with them, they can escalate the complaint to the local regional office for resolution.
If the matter still cannot be resolved by the regional office, the complaint can be further escalated to the Department’s Central Office for a Deputy Secretary review or referral to the Independent Office for School Dispute .
Further information on this process is available in the Department’s Parent Complaints .
Support for school staff managing parent complaints
Regional offices can support principals, schools and parents in the complaint handling process by:
- helping schools respond to parent complaints
- helping parents seeking to make a complaint about a school.
Regional staff may have additional avenues of support that could help you resolve a complaint.
Principals should contact their Senior Education Improvement Leader to discuss available regional supports.
Complaints and Improvement Unit
The Department’s Complaints and Improvement Unit can help resolve and support the management of complaints that have escalated from the regional level.
The Complaints and Improvement Unit:
- receives and responds to complaints that are not able to be resolved at a school or regional level
- ensures complaints received by the Minister’s Office, the Secretary of the Department, or the Deputy Secretary, Schools and Regional Services, are referred to the appropriate area for review and response in accordance with the Department’s policies and processes
- provides advice and support to all parties regarding complaint management
- provides complaint management capability building functions to support continuous improvement
- considers the suitability of complaints to be referred to theIndependent Office for School Dispute
- liaises with, and makes referrals of suitable matters to, the Independent Office for School Dispute .
The Complaints and Improvement Unit can also respond to general school queries about this policy.
Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution
The Independent Office for School Dispute is independent of the Department. It helps to resolve escalated and complex disputes that have not been settled at the school or regional level or by the Complaints and Improvement Unit. The Independent Office can also help schools resolve other disputes and conflicts early, when a parent contacts the Independent Office directly.
Once involved, the Independent Office supports all parties (including parents, students and principals) to work towards resolving the dispute.
An eligible dispute may be referred to the Independent Office by the Department’s Complaints and Improvement Unit as part of the Department’s complaint escalation process. Disputes may also be referred directly by a student, parent or carer to the Independent Office.
Further information about the Independent Office can be found on the Independent Office for School Dispute .
Employee Assistance Program
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a short term, solution focused and strictly confidential counselling service. All Department staff can access the EAP 24/7 for up to 4 sessions to discuss personal or work-related issues. Phone: 1300 361 008
Managers can also seek advice and support from the EAP's Manager Assist telephone advisory service, available Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Phone: 1300 361 008
A ‘parent’, in relation to a child, includes a guardian and any person who has parental responsibility for the child including parental responsibility under the Family Law Act of the Commonwealth, and any person with whom a child normally or regularly resides.
This policy also applies to:
- a person who is authorised to act on behalf of the parent such as a support person or an advocate
- a mature minor student (refer to Mature Minors and Decision-Making Policy)
- an adult student
For further information, refer to Decision Making Responsibilities for Students.
A ‘complaint’ is an expression of dissatisfaction, either written or verbal, with an action taken, decision made or service provided, or the failure to provide a service, take action or make a decision at a school.
A ‘complainant’ is the party making the complaint.
A ‘support person’ is someone who assists the complainant through the complaint process.
An ‘advocate’ is someone acting on behalf of the complainant.
Department staff refers to school, regional and central office staff.
A ‘designated regional officer’ is the relevant subject matter expert.
- Duty of Care
- Fraud and Corruption Control
- Child and Family Violence Information Sharing Schemes
- Complaints, Misconduct and Unsatisfactory Performance — Teaching Service
- Police — Department Protocol on Reporting Criminal Activity
- Students with Disability
- Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006
- Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005
- Child Wellbeing and Safety (Information Sharing) Regulations 2018
- Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector
- Education and Training Reform Act 2006
- Education and Training Reform Regulations 2017
- Equal Opportunity Act 2010
- Family Violence Protection Act 2008
- Family Violence Protection (Information Sharing and Risk Management) Regulations 2018
- Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014
- Public Interest Disclosures Act 2012
- Wrongs Act 1958
Refer to the Complaints Quick Reference for a summary of the parent complaints policy and information on how to raise a concern or complaint about your child’s experience at a Victorian government school.
The following resources are available to support schools to manage complaints:
- For a guide on managing conflict in schools, information on mediation and facilitated discussion services, and a suite of conflict training videos, refer to Conflict resolution in (staff login required).
- Information for parents and carers on how to raise a complaint about a Victorian government school (including frequently asked questions) is available at: Parent complaints in Victorian government .
- A Complaints and Parent Dispute template is available in the School Policy Templates (staff login required).
- The Employee Conduct can provide principals with advice and support in addressing allegations about employee conduct or work performance.
- The Legal Division can provide principals with advice and support in addressing allegations with legal elements or risks by phone on 9637 3146 and email at email@example.com
- The Complex Matter Support (login required) can provide principals with advice and support when managing complaints that involving challenging parent behaviour or communications.
- For further supports and guidance on managing parent complaints, refer to Manage and resolve parent (staff login required).
- A flyer has been developed by the Department in partnership with VicSRC and Parents Victoria outlining the benefits of respectful and meaningful partnerships in education, refer to:
- Independent Office for School Dispute
Reviewed 29 June 2020