Core principles of the complaints process

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It’s important to understand your rights and how the complaints process works, if you have a concern about your child’s education.

On this page:

This page is most directly relevant to the complaints process for government schools – mainstream and specialist settings, although the content is broadly relevant and might be useful for those in non-government settings.


Every school must have a complaints policy and make it available

You always have the right to raise a concern or complaint about your child’s education, and to get support to do so. DET requires all schools to have a policy and procedures to address concerns raised by parents and carers, and to make this information easily available to families.

If you have a concern, it’s a good idea to read the school complaints policy. School often publish this on their website, in materials for new families, or in their families handbook. Some schools publicise their policies (e.g. via the school website or newsletter, or posters in public areas) and make the full policy and procedures available on request.

DET also requires that all information given to families should be clear and easy to understand, and that schools should provide it in translation or alternative formats (such as large print) if needed.


Issues should first be raised at the local level

A central principle of the DET complaints process is that a concern or complaint should be addressed, wherever possible, at the local level. This is usually the quickest and most effective way to resolve a problem – by raising it first with the people most directly involved.

This is also a requirement of the DET complaints process. That is, in most cases you have the right to take your complaint to the next level (e.g. the DET regional office) only after you have first tried to resolve it at the local level (e.g. with the school). If you approach the DET regional or central office first, they will ask whether and how you have tried to resolve the issue directly with the school. If you have not, they will usually ask you to do so, before they get involved.

There are some situations where this would not apply, for example if your complaint is about the principal. There are also many situations in which DET regional office staff can give very useful information or support, before a concern becomes an official complaint. There are examples throughout Learning Together of situations in which regional DET staff can give helpful advice and support – to schools, to students, to SSGs, and to parents and carers.


Expectations on everyone involved

DET policy is that anyone involved in raising a complaint (e.g. you as parent or carer) or addressing a complaint (staff at the school or in DET) should:

  • maintain confidentiality – that is, not talk to anyone else about details of the concern or complaint that relate to individual students, families or staff members. It is important to note however, that if a complaint has been made about an individual staff member, it will be raised with that person so they have an opportunity to respond. This is an important principal of ‘natural justice’ (see below)
  • acknowledge their common goal – that is, everyone agrees that their aim is to find a solution acceptable to everyone involved
  • act in good faith, calmly and courteously ­– ‘acting in good faith’ means that you behave honestly and decently, and trust that others will do the same
  • show respect and understand different points of view, without blaming or judging
  • recognise that everyone has rights and responsibilities, which must be balanced.


You have the right to an advocate or support person

If you are raising a concern or complaint with your child’s government school, the principal is required to let you know that you have the right to an advocate or support person, for example at meetings with the school. An advocate is someone who supports you but is not paid to represent you (such as a lawyer). If you involve a lawyer in your dealings with the school, then the normal DET complaints policy no longer applies.

Your advocate or support person might be a friend or family member, someone from an advocacy organisation like ACD, or another professional who offers to help (for example by attending a meeting with you) such as your child’s therapist or case manager.


Schools must act promptly and fairly – to everyone involved

DET expects government school staff to address complaints from parents and carers courteously, efficiently and fairly, and within timelines agreed on with you (where possible, this should be within 20 school days).

Concerns should be addressed in accordance with DET’s regulations, as well as ‘due process’ and, in relevant cases, principles of natural justice. ‘Due process’ means that you should receive fair treatment through the normal system. Principles of natural justice mean that the procedures must be fair for everyone involved.

The main principles of natural justice are:

  • the right of everyone involved to have their side of the issue heard
  • in the case of the person being complained about, their right to be advised of the complaint
  • the requirement that the deciding authority must be unbiased, and make their decision on a balanced and considered assessment of the information. Even where no bias exists, there should also be no appearance of bias
  • the decision must be based on logical proof or clear evidence.
  • Find out more about complaints processes in government schools.


Unreasonable conduct, victimisation and violence

Making and responding to complaints can be very stressful, and emotions can sometimes run high. However, everyone involved in making and handling complaints is expected to behave in a ‘reasonable manner’. That is, everyone involved should respect confidentiality, and demonstrate cooperation, courtesy and respect for each other and the proper process.

If the school treats you in an unreasonable manner, or victimises or harasses you or your child for raising a concern or complaint, you have the right to take your complaint to the next level – to the DET regional office – or to use an external complaints mechanism.

If the school believes that you are treating their staff or others at the school in an unreasonable manner, the principal can contact the regional office or other DET staff, who can investigate. If they find that your conduct is unreasonable, DET might intervene to both resolve your complaint and address your conduct. They should communicate with you about how they will do so.

If you use threatening or violent behaviour towards staff or other people at school, the school can respond in a range of ways, including by contacting police, and/or seeking an intervention order to prevent you from entering school premises.

If there is a risk that the relationship between you and the school will break down significantly, or if it has already done so, it is very important to seek support, for example from an advocacy organisation like ACD. Mediation might also be helpful, if everyone agrees.