There are many reasons why it is a good idea to put things in writing and keep good records of your dealings with schools and other organizations.
On this page:
- People are busy – including you!
- People can have different perceptions of what was agreed
- It’s useful to document less formal discussions
- Serious concerns should always be put in writing
- It helps with follow-up
- A ‘paper trail’ will help, if you need to take your issue further
People are busy – including you!
Despite good intentions, sometimes an issue can take time to resolve. So it’s important that you and the school can keep track of issues you have raised, what was agreed, follow up actions and who will do them, and when these need to happen. This is especially important if there are due dates to bear in mind, for example for funding applications or reviews.
People can have different perceptions of what was agreed
It’s a good idea to keep your own notes of what happens at important meetings, even though the school should be taking minutes of meetings (SSG meetings and others), as well as documenting changes to your child’s Individual Learning Plan and other support plans, and distributing them to everyone present. Review the school’s minutes when they are sent, and follow up if you think that a mistake has been made.
“It probably sounds pedantic, but when things started to go wrong, I kept a bit of a diary about telephone conversations. I know some people say ‘Oh gosh’, but its really important that you do keep a record of that, and that its really specific about who said what, and this incident or whatever.
I kept all the emails, all the copies of written communication, and as far as I could, notes about verbal conversations with the date and time. That can sway someone. When they see, ‘At 9.30 on Tuesday, Robin actually said this’ – it’s definite. It’s not something that might have happened.” – Denise
It’s useful to document less formal discussions
Issues and decisions from SSG and other meetings should be recorded in proper minutes. But often, you and a staff member might have less formal conversations, whether at one-on-one meetings, or in chats at drop-off and pickup.
If an important issue was raised in such a discussion, consider sending a follow up email. This can be short and informal – along the lines of, ‘just following up on our discussion to note that we agreed that x and y will happen’. If needed, you might request another meeting to discuss the issue, or suggest it be reviewed at the next SSG.
Even if you don’t follow up with an email, you can make a note of what was discussed and agreed, with the date and time. This is part of creating a ‘paper trail’.
“I’d start off by just approaching the teacher in a nice, diplomatic way, ‘I’d like to talk with you about his communication book. I know what you’re busy, but its really important for us as a family, and our continued understanding and support for my son to know what he’s doing during the day. Are you able to write in it a bit more often? Even a couple of lines about what he’s doing, and perhaps his timetable so we know what he’s doing through the day?’ That wasn’t even happening either. So you start of talking to the teacher. They’ll give their reasons. Different teachers will have different priorities.
I would raise it with the classroom teacher first. If you’re not happy with the outcome after a week or two – give it a considerable two weeks, or month at maximum. And then escalate it. Then go talk to the vice principal. But I would continue to write it down. Its about keeping a record. So – I’ve spoken to the classroom teacher, continually written in the communication book and asked questions to prompt. And when no response was forthcoming, I would email the vice principal, or the equivalent. So you’ve got a record.
Its also about the way its worded, so you’re not attacking the school. You’re not attacking the teacher. You’re putting your concerns across from your perspective as a parent, and from your child’s perspective. And what it means from those two different perspectives, and why its important.” – Megan
Serious concerns should always be put in writing
How you raise an issue with school is up to you. Especially if an issue is minor (at least at this stage) or could be easily addressed, you might want to start with a less formal, less work-intensive process, like a chat with the teacher. It’s still a good idea to keep a record of this (see above), but if a problem can be resolved quickly and easily, that’s good for everyone.
However, it is always a good idea to put serious concerns in writing, especially if you are raising it with the principal. Think through what you want to write carefully. Be clear about what you know about the situation without jumping to conclusions or making accusations. You can get help to write letters or emails from an advocacy organisation.
- See also our Top ten tips for effective letter-writing in the Tools and resources section.
Let the principal know that you would like to work through the issue together, and ask for a response within a reasonable timeframe. Your letter becomes part of your record keeping, which may be important if the issue is complex and takes some time to sort out.
- Find out more about complaints processes.
- Visit our Tools and resources section to download a sample complaints letter.
It helps with follow-up
Follow up is a common frustration for many parents and carers. Sometimes schools will be great at planning, and will discuss lots of good ideas about how to support your child and resolve problems at a meeting. But when it comes to implementing those plans and ideas, things can be less than satisfactory.
There are a lot of pressures on schools and teachers. It’s important to acknowledge that, but at the same time, your child has the right to learning and supports they need. If there is a clear written record of discussion, decisions and agreed actions, it’s much easier to follow up with the school, and check if things are happening as agreed. You can do this at the next SSG meeting, or beforehand with more urgent issues.
A ‘paper trail’ will help, if you need to take your issue further
Putting things in writing – and asking the school or other agencies to do so – is about ‘accountability’. This is when a person or organisation can be held to their obligations, and to what they said they would do. If you keep good records of all your dealings with the school, especially when issues arise, this will make it much easier to hold them accountable. This might be as simple as sending them a copy of minutes or correspondence to remind them what was agreed. But if you end up deciding to take your complaint further – for example to DET or the Ombudsman – a paper trail will provide a written record and proof of what has taken place.
- Find out more about taking your issue further.