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.

Tips and advice on effective complaining

Quick reference guide – making a complaint about our schools (PDF 135.29KB)

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. Your child's teacher 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.

Finding a public school

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 your child?s learning at school
  • Any practice, policy or procedure
  • Staff behaviour or conduct

How do I make a complaint?

The best education happens when students, parents and schools work together. We encourage you to contact the school to talk about your concerns, as most problems can be solved by talking to the people who best know your child. Your child’s teacher is generally the best place to start. In primary school, this will be your child’s classroom teacher. In high school, you can contact the teacher or head teacher of a specific subject, or the year advisor.

If you are unsure who to speak to, the school’s office staff may be able to help find the best person. Sometimes, this may be the Principal or another member of the school executive. At other times, this may be a more senior person at one of our local NSW Department of Education offices, such as the Director Educational Leadership responsible for the school. The school can provide you with their contact details.

It's best if you let them know about your concerns as early as possible. Make a time to meet with them or phone the school and ask for an appointment.

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.

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. Your feedback will be sent to the right place for action. In most situations, this will be the relevant school, as schools know the situation and are often best placed to work with students and families to resolve issues as they arise. 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.

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 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 [External link] is an Australia-wide phone service for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment.

We can arrange onsite and telephone interpreting and translation services for meetings or interviews with a school or the Department of Education - just ask beforehand.

Information about NSW public schools is available in many languages. Visit translated documents to search for available documents.

What if my child 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 your child at school, the first point of contact is the school. A range of staff are available in schools to help you and your child and we recognise that parents and carers, teachers and 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 your child’s 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.

More information:

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 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.

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 will 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.

NSW Ombudsman
02 9286 1000
www.ombo.nsw.gov.au

Australian Human Rights
02 9284 9600
www.humanrights.gov.au

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.
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