Tips and advice for effective complaining

Introduction

The best education happens when families and schools work together. The Department of Education aims to work in partnership with parents, carers, students and families to create positive learning environments.

There will be times when you want to ask a question, raise an issue or make a complaint about our schools. We encourage you to raise any concerns with us early, so that prompt action can be taken. If you aren't satisfied with our response, you can make a complaint.

The complaints process can be time-consuming and emotionally demanding for everyone. We commit to treating you fairly and respectfully during this process. It helps us to understand your concerns and take action if you provide the information we need clearly and promptly. Here are some helpful tips on what to consider and the steps you can take when making a complaint.

Be clear

When contacting the Department of Education it is useful to be brief and focus on the facts relevant to your issue. Although you may feel strongly about the issue, it helps to communicate reasonably, rather than emotionally.

Be polite

When you speak to the person handling your issue with respect, they are more likely to respond respectfully. Avoid sarcasm as it can make your complaint appear less clear. Using rude or abusive language may lead to the complaint manager terminating the conversation. Even though you may be angry, speaking with a harsh tone can distract from the message you are trying to convey.

Be honest

The person handling your issue will often make further inquiries to the appropriate people. It's always best to tell the truth and stick to the facts. If you can support your information with records, it helps improve your credibility.

Be realistic

Think about what you would like to have happen and whether the school can reasonably do what you are asking. As schools can be busy places, it might take some time for things to happen - be realistic about your expectations and the timeframe for schools to respond.

Be informed

It can be useful to read the Guide for parents, carers and students and other information on the NSW Department of Education's website. If there is something you don't understand, ask questions.

Be cooperative

Help the person handling the issue by providing all the information necessary early on. If you have new information, keep them updated. If you do not wish to continue the matter, let them know.
We encourage you to approach teachers early, but keep in mind that teachers are often dealing with many issues at once. At first, they may only have time to talk briefly. In this case, you can arrange a time to speak with the teacher later.

More information is available on our website:

This material has been adapted from the NSW Ombudsman smart complaining fact sheet 2018.

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.

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.

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.

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