Making a complaint about schools - guide for parents, carers and students
We are committed to working with parents, carers, students and families to ensure all students are happy and thrive at school. If you have a question, issue, complaint, feedback or compliment about our schools, we’d like to know.
Video – Contacting the NSW Department of Education
Duration - 3:20
Who to contact
Complaints about public schools in NSW
The department is committed to resolving issues about NSW schools locally where possible. The teacher or principal is often the best place to start. You can ask a question or raise an issue by contacting the school directly or through the department's online complaint form. The widget on the right of this page is a quick way of making a complaint or providing feedback.
We will support people that may need assistance to make a complaint. All complaints will be handled fairly, objectively and promptly.
Complaints about non-government schools in NSW
The department does not manage complaints about independent or Catholic systemic schools.
If you have feedback or a complaint about a non-government school in NSW, contact the school directly. All registered non-government schools are required to have a complaint procedure. Where possible and appropriate, schools are required to provide an opportunity to resolve the issue. Schools may have information on their websites about their complaint processes or they can be requested directly from the school.
The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) is responsible for monitoring the compliance of non-government schools with the requirements of the Education Act 1990. In some circumstances, NESA may take action in relation to complaints about non-government schools in NSW.
For further information about NESA’s processes for raising concerns about non-government schools, see non-government schools: raising concerns.
Complaints about services run by P&C Associations at public schools
If you have feedback or a complaint about a service that is run by a Parents and Citizens Association at a public school, such as a canteen, out of school hours care service or school uniform shop, please contact the P&C Association directly. The school can provide the contact details for the P&C Association.
Complaints about schools outside of NSW
If you have feedback or a complaint about schools outside of NSW, contact the school directly.
What can a complaint be about?
You can make a complaint to us about:
- Any aspect of the services we provide
- Any decision, including those about enrolment or support for student learning at school
- Any practice, policy or procedure
- Staff behaviour or conduct
How do I make a complaint?
Always contact the school first to talk about your concerns. They can solve most problems. It's best if you let someone know about your concerns as early as possible. Make a time to meet with a staff member or contact the school and ask for an appointment. If you are unsure who to speak to, the school’s office staff may be able to help find the best person.
The student's teacher is generally the best person to handle routine concerns about matters within their classroom and/ or area of responsibility. In primary school, this will be the classroom teacher. In high school, you can contact the teacher or head teacher of a specific subject, or the year advisor. Before you approach your child’s teacher or other school staff, be clear about the issues you want to discuss and think about how the matter could be resolved.
If you have raised your concerns with your child’s teacher and are dissatisfied, you can escalate your complaint to the principal. The principal can decide to manage the complaint or hand it to another suitable person, like another member of the school executive.
If your complaint cannot be resolved straight away, we may ask you to put the complaint in writing. Include specific details and tell us what you would like to happen as a result of the complaint.
If your concern is about a principal, you can make a complaint to one of our local Department of Education offices. The school can provide you with their contact details.
You can also use the department’s online complaint form or the Feedback Assist widget on the right-hand side of this page to make a complaint, give feedback or tell us about an idea. We will find the right place to respond to your complaint or feedback.
In most situations, a complaint will be referred to the relevant school. In some situations, a complaint or feedback may be provided to the Director Educational Leadership responsible for the school, so they can decide the best approach to resolve the issue.
For more information, see our tips and advice for effective complaining.
Why are complaints referred to the school for response?
Complaints may be made in person, by phone, by email or letter, or through the department’s online complaint form or widget. In each case, a decision is made about the best person or place to manage the complaint. The department will delegate most complaints to the school, as the school is often best placed to find out what happened and fix the issue.
Any staff member who has sufficient knowledge and authority about the complaint issue may manage a complaint.
In many cases, staff can manage a complaint made directly to them, even if the complaint relates to their actions. For example, where a parent complains to the classroom teacher about their programming or student behaviour management, the teacher may be able to respond to the complaint. This often also best meets the student’s needs.
Some complaints will need the involvement of the principal or another executive staff member. For example, when a person is dissatisfied with the way their complaint has been handled by the classroom teacher or another member of staff. As issues are clarified, a complaint may be handed to another suitable person.
Few complaints are managed by a person outside the school. For example, when the complaint is about a decision made by principal. In these situations, the department delegates the complaint to a suitable person, such as the Director Educational Leadership responsible for the school.
What if I need help to make a complaint?
Our schools and communities will make sure that written communication is appropriate, fair and easy to read.
We can assist parents, carers and students who do not speak or understand English well, the deaf or hearing impaired and those with a speech impairment. If you need another kind of support to make a complaint, please let us know and our staff will do their best to help you.
You may bring a friend or relative to be your support at meetings. For more information about how others can assist you in making and progressing a complaint, see our guide about the role of support persons and advocates.
The National Relay Service is an Australia-wide phone service for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment.
We can arrange onsite, online or telephone interpreting and translation services for meetings or interviews with a school or the Department of Education, if available - just ask beforehand.
Information about NSW public schools is available in many languages. Visit translated documents to search for available documents.
What if a student has a disability?
A wide range of supports are provided in our schools to help students with a disability or additional learning needs to take part in education and get the most out of school. This may include tailored learning programs or changes to the way lessons are taught, providing extra help or extra time for learning activities, providing modified materials or specialist equipment and providing specialised learning environments.
These supports may also be referred to as adjustments.
Under the Disability Standards for Education, schools provide adjustments that are reasonable to enable a student to access educational opportunities on the same basis as their peers.
The support or adjustments for each student with disability reflects their individual educational needs and are determined in consultation with the student and/or their parents and caregivers.
If you are caring for a child with a disability or special needs and have a question or issue about support for the child at school, the first point of contact is the school. A range of staff are available in schools to help you and we recognise that students, parents, carers, teachers, school support staff and other professionals all have important roles to play. The learning and support team in each school plays a key role in coordinating and planning support for students with a disability or additional needs and will work with you to support student learning needs and resolve any issues. If you are unhappy with the outcome of raising a question or issue, you can ask to speak to the school Principal or make a complaint.
Complaints can be about any aspect of our services, including issues relating to:
- Enrolling a child or young person with disability or additional support needs in our schools
- The way that students with disability or additional support needs are treated
- The identification and implementation of adjustments, supports and individualised planning for our students
- The use of restrictive practices in our schools
- Disciplinary measures in response to behaviours of concern, including suspension and expulsion
- The experiences of students from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) community.
- Personalised support for student learning
- Disability Standards for Education
- Programs and services including enrolment and support options for students with a disability
- School enrolment
The Disability Standards for Education: A practical guide for individuals, families and communities [External link] provides more information to help you understand reasonable adjustments, how they are decided and what is reasonable and fair to expect from a school.
Can students make a complaint?
Students can make a complaint about the services that we provide. It is best to let someone know about any problems or concerns as early as possible. Most problems can be solved by talking to the people who know the situation.
We encourage students to raise any concerns about their experiences at school with their school. In a high school, the teacher or year adviser is often the best place to start. In a primary school, this will be the classroom teacher. You can ask to make a time to meet to talk about what is happening. If the issue cannot be resolved straight away, they will let you know what will happen next.
You can also make a complaint through the department’s online complaint form or the Feedback Assist widget on the right-hand side of this page. In most situations, the information that you provide will be given to the relevant school, as they know the situation and can work with students and their families to resolve issues. We will let you know what will happen next.
If you need help to make a complaint, you can ask someone to assist you. You can also bring a support person or advocate to meetings. Our Tips and Advice for Effective Complaining has useful information about what you can do to help us to understand your concerns.
You can make a complaint anonymously. However, if you do not provide your contact details, it can be hard to resolve the complaint and we cannot give you information about any action taken in response.
Can I make an anonymous complaint?
Yes, you can make your complaint anonymously. However, it may be difficult to resolve a complaint if you do not provide your contact details and we need further information to clarify the issues or take action to resolve your complaint. If you do not provide your contact details, you will not receive information about any action taken in response.
Can I make a complaint after leaving a school?
We generally encourage people to raise any issues or concerns about our schools at the time they arise. The longer it takes for us to hear about an issue or concern, the harder it can be to resolve. We also recognise that, sometimes, it can be difficult for parents and carers to provide feedback while their child is attending a school, or for students to raise issues while they are at school.
Parents, carers and students can provide feedback or make a complaint at the time of leaving a school or after leaving a school. You can do this by contacting the school and asking to meet with the principal, or providing feedback in writing to the school, the Director Educational Leadership responsible for the school, or through our online complaint form or Feedback Assist widget. While we may not be able to change what has happened for you, your feedback can help us to understand what happened and make changes to assist other families.
We may be limited in the action we can take about situations that occurred some time ago, as staff may no longer work for the department, potential witnesses may not be able to be contacted, and people’s recollection of events may be affected over time. We cannot investigate or take action against a person who is no longer an employee or a student at one of our schools.
Who will handle my complaint and how do I contact them?
Once you make a complaint, we will tell you who will manage it and how to contact them. If a complaint concerns a risk to health or safety, security, corrupt conduct, criminal conduct or child protection, we will manage it within our policies and procedures. This may include referring certain complaints to other authorities, such as where there are allegations of criminal conduct or where there is a risk of significant harm to a child or young person.
Our staff will find a time to talk to you when they can give you their full attention. Please remember that while our staff are in class or dealing with other matters, they may not be available to answer your questions immediately.
Will my complaint be kept confidential?
The person who is dealing with your complaint can advise you if we can keep your complaint private. We cannot guarantee confidentiality, as we may need to disclose your details or details of your complaint to others which may include referring it to another more appropriate public sector agency or as otherwise permitted by privacy legislation. If your complaint is about another person, we will usually tell them about the complaint and give them a chance to respond.
How long will it take for my complaint to be dealt with?
It will depend on what your complaint is about.
In circumstances where a complaint requires specialist handling or an investigation, we will acknowledge the complaint and inform you who will be handling it and how to contact that person. If it is likely to take longer than 20 working days, you will be kept informed about progress on a regular basis until the matter is resolved.
In some cases, we may not be able to look into your complaint until other issues have been dealt with. We will let you know if this is the case.
If you have not heard from the person who is handling the complaint within a reasonable time, you can call or email them to ask what is happening.
Will I be told what is happening at the end of my complaint?
In almost all cases, we will tell you what we found, any action we are taking and the reasons for our decisions. In some matters, there may be reasons why we cannot provide you with another person's personal information.
What about my privacy?
In accordance with the relevant legislation, personal information about the person making the complaint will not be disclosed to any third party without their consent, except where required or authorised by law.
What are the possible results of my complaint?
If the complaint is upheld, you may be offered one or more of the following:
- action to fix the matter or improve the situation
- an apology
- an explanation
- an admission that the situation could have been handled better or differently
- an undertaking to review the department's policies in light of the complaint.
If the complaint is not upheld, we will give you clear reasons for our decision.
What if I am not happy with the result?
If you have information that the complaint outcome was incorrect and/or the complaint handling process was unfair, you may ask for a review of your complaint by contacting the school principal, the director educational leadership for that school or the manager of the section of the department that handled your complaint. If you are unsure who to contact, you can use the online complaint form or the Feedback Assist widget on the right-hand side of this page.
Requests for review should be made within 10 working days from the initial complaint decision, unless there are circumstances that may have reasonably prevented a request for the review within 10 days. These circumstances may include illness, needing advice from another person about seeking a review, or an advocate or adviser being unavailable within the 10 day timeframe. Requests for review should be in writing and give the reasons for the request.
Generally, we will only review the management of a complaint once.
What if I am still not happy after I have requested a review?
If you believe that you have not been treated fairly or that the result is still unreasonable, you may wish to seek a review from an independent organisation.
02 9286 1000
Australian Human Rights
02 9284 9600
What does the department expect of people making complaints?
The department expects people to be respectful and reasonable when engaging with the department and our staff, and to assist the complaint manager to deal with the complaint. It helps us to resolve complaints if you are able to provide clear information about what happened and what you would like us to do about the situation. We encourage the appropriate use of email and social media.
Read the School Community Charter to ensure you understand how important it is to create a positive learning environment for our students.
What does the department do if people do not behave reasonably?
In all workplaces, people have the right to feel respected and safe. Unacceptable and offensive behaviour has no place in our school communities.
To ensure the safety and wellbeing of students, staff and the community in our schools, steps will be taken to address unacceptable behaviour. When a person’s behaviour is unreasonable and obstructs the proper management of a complaint or other issues, a senior officer from the department may decide to restrict or terminate contact with that person. In more serious cases, this may include referral to NSW Police.
Unacceptable behaviour may include but is not limited to:
- Aggressive or intimidating actions, such as violence, threatening gestures or physical proximity.
- Aggressive or intimidating language, including the use of obscenities, making sexist, racist or derogatory comments or using a rude tone.
- Treating members of the school community differently due to aspects such as their religion or disability.
- Inappropriate and time wasting communication.