1. Policy outline
1.1 Circulation: this policy is addressed to all current members of the Ashbourne community: the Senior Leadership Team; all members of the teaching, operation and pastoral staff and current and prospective parents and students.
1.2 Policy status: the policy has been approved by the Principal of Ashbourne College who, as the Complaints Co-ordinator, is responsible for overseeing the College’s complaints procedure. It provides guidelines for handling concerns and complaints. It takes account of paragraph 7 of the Schedule to the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2014 (No. 3283). The procedures set out below may be adapted as appropriate to meet the policy aims and circumstances of each case. Certain procedures can only be carried out during term time.
1.3 Application: separate procedures and policies apply in the event of a child protection issue or if the Principal excludes a student and the parents, guardians or carers seek a review of that decision.
1.4 Parent/s/you: include a current or prospective parent, legal guardian, education guardian or carer and may at our discretion include a parent whose child has recently left the College.
1.5 Procedure: this policy describes a three-stage procedure.
Stage 1: informal raising of a concern or difficulty notified orally or in writing to the Director of Studies, who has been designated by the Principal to deal with this stage of the procedure. The Director of Studies may delegate the management of the concern at this level to an appropriate member of staff, e.g. personal tutor;
Stage 2: if not satisfied with the response made at stage 1, a formal complaint in writing may be made to the Principal;
Stage 3: if not satisfied with the response made at stage 2, a request may be made in writing that the Principal convenes a Complaints Panel.
Complaints received by the Principal at Stages 2 and 3 may be referred to an appropriate member of staff to resolve.
1.6 Timescales: We aim to resolve any complaints in a timely manner. Timescales for each stage are set out below in the relevant paragraphs. When we refer to 'working days' we mean Monday to Friday, when the College is open during term time. The dates of terms are published on the College’s website.
2. Policy aim and statement
2.1 Aim: the aim of this policy is to ensure that a concern or complaint is managed sympathetically, efficiently and at the appropriate level, and resolved as soon as possible. Doing so is good practice, it is fair to those concerned and it helps to promote parents’ and students’ confidence in our ability to safeguard and promote welfare. We will try to resolve every concern or complaint in a positive way with the aim of putting right a matter which may have gone wrong and, where necessary, reviewing our systems and procedures in light of the circumstances.
2.2 Statement: we need to know as soon as possible if there is any cause for concern. We recognise that a difficulty which is not resolved quickly and fairly can soon become a cause of resentment, which would be damaging to relationships and also to our school culture. Parents and students should never feel, or be made to feel, that a complaint will be taken amiss or will adversely affect a student or his/her opportunities at this College. The policy however distinguishes between a concern or difficulty which can be resolved informally and a formal complaint which will require investigation.
Our this policy does not cover:
matters previously investigated through the complaints procedure;
vexatious complaints, such as repeated attempts to raise the same complaint after it has been considered at all three stages.
3. Management of complaints
The Principal is responsible for the co-ordination and administration of the Complaints Procedure but may delegate some or all of his responsibilities to an appropriate senior member of staff. In this regard his main responsibilities are to:
be the first point of contact while the matter remains unresolved and keep records;
co-ordinate the complaints procedures in the College;
monitor the keeping, confidentiality and storage of records in relation to complaints;
provide, on behalf of the College, a response to complaints following an investigation at Stage 2.
Complaints Records and Form: every concern or complaint notified to any member of staff will be noted, together with the action taken.
3.1 Stage 1: concerns and difficulties
3.1.1 Concerns: we expect that most concerns, where a parent or student seeks intervention, reconsideration or some other action to be taken, can be resolved informally. Examples might include a dissatisfaction about some aspect of teaching or pastoral care, or about allocation of privileges or responsibilities, or about a timetable clash or some other aspect of the College’s systems or equipment, or a billing error.
3.1.2 Notification: please raise the concern initially with the Director of Studies who may delegate to another member of staff, if appropriate.
3.1.3 Acknowledgement: Ashbourne College will acknowledge a written notification by email or letter within two working days of receipt during term time and as soon as practicable in the holidays. A matter raised orally will not necessarily be acknowledged in writing. Information pertaining to the informal complaint will be kept on a secure internal database.
3.2 Stage 2: formal complaint
3.2.1 Notification: all formal complaints must be set out in writing with full details and sent with any relevant documents and the complainant's contact details to the Principal. The complaint will be acknowledged in writing within two working days during term time, indicating the action that is being taken and the likely time scale. All records/information regarding the complaint will be kept on a secure internal database.
3.2.2 Investigation: the Principal may ask a senior member of staff to act as 'investigator'. The investigator/s may request additional information from the complainant and will probably wish to speak in person and with others who have knowledge of the circumstances. The outcome of the investigation will be reported to the Principal who will then notify the claimant in writing of his decision and the reasons for it. Written records will be kept of all meetings and interviews held in relation to the complaint.
3.2.3 Outcome: The Principal’s aim would be to inform any complainant of the outcome of an investigation and the resolution to the complaint within 28 working days from the receipt of the complaint. Please note that any complaint received within one month of the end of term or half term is likely to take longer to resolve owing to the presence of school holidays and the unavailability of personnel.
3.3 Stage 3: referral to a Complaints Panel
3.3.1 Further steps: if the complainant is dissatisfied with the Principal’s decision under Stage 2, the complaint may be renewed in writing to the Principal with a request to convene a hearing of a Complaints Panel (Panel). A Panel hearing is a review of the decisions taken at Stages 1 and 2. The Panel will not consider any new areas of complaint which have not been previously raised as part of the complaints procedure.
3.3.2 The role of the Panel: the Panel’s task is to establish the facts surrounding the complaints that have been made by considering:
the documents provided all both parties;
any representations made by the complainant and the Principal or the senior member of staff to which he has delegated responsibility for investigating the complaint.
If, after establishing the facts, the Panel consider that the complaint has been substantiated, they will uphold the complaint. If the Panel consider that the complaint has not been substantiated, they will dismiss the complaint. They will make these decisions on the balance of probabilities.
It is not within the powers of the Panel to make any financial award, nor to impose sanctions on staff, students or parents. The Panel may make recommendations on these or any other issues to the Principal as appropriate.
3.3.3 Composition: The Complaints Panel will comprise at least three people all of whom have no direct involvement in the case and at least one of whom is independent of the governance, management and running of the College. In choosing members for the Panel the College will make its best efforts to follow advice from the Department for Education and select from persons who have held positions of responsibility and are used to scrutinising evidence and providing balanced judgements. Examples might be: serving or retired business people, civil servants, senior members of staff from other schools and persons with a legal background.
3.3.4 Notification: to request a hearing before the Complaints Panel please write to the Principal no later than five working days from the day of the final decision made at Stage 2. Requests will only be considered if the complaint has already passed through Stages 1 and 2. Please ensure that the College is in possession of a copy of all relevant documents and that full contact details accompany the letter requesting a hearing. Please state in the letter the outcome desired and all the grounds of the complaint. Please also include a list of the documents believed to be in the College’s possession and that the complainant wishes the Panel to see. The Administration will acknowledge the request in writing within two working days.
3.3.5 Convening the Panel: The Complaints Panel will be convened as soon as reasonably practicable but the Panel will not normally sit during half terms or school holidays.
3.3.6 Notice of hearing: Every effort will be made to enable the Panel hearing to take place within 10 working days of the receipt of the request. As soon as reasonably practical and in any event, at least five working days before the hearing, the complainant will be sent written notification of the date, time and place of the hearing, together with brief details of the Panel members who will be present.
3.3.7 Attendance: the complainant will be asked to attend the hearing and may be accompanied by a parent and one other person such as a relative, teacher or friend. It is not necessary for that person to be legally qualified but if the complainant does wish to be accompanied by a legally qualified person, acting in their professional capacity, please notify the College at least seven working days before the hearing. The complainant may attend part or all of the hearing at the discretion of the Chair. Copies of additional documents the complainant wishes the Panel to consider should be sent to the Principal at least three clear working days prior to the hearing.
3.3.8 Chair: the hearing will be chaired by one member of the Panel (chosen by the Panel) and will be conducted in an informal manner.
3.3.9 Hearing: all statements made at the hearing will be unsworn. All present will be entitled, should they wish, to write their own notes for reference purposes. The Principal will see that minutes of the proceedings are taken.
3.3.10 Evidence: the Chair will conduct the hearing in such a way as to ensure that all those present have the opportunity of asking questions and making comments in an appropriate manner. The hearing is not a legal proceeding and the Panel shall be under no obligation to hear oral evidence from witnesses but may do so and/or may take written statements into account.
3.3.11 Conduct: all those attending the hearing are expected to show courtesy, restraint and good manners or, after due warning, the hearing may be adjourned or terminated at the discretion of the Chair. If terminated, the original decision will stand. Any person who is dissatisfied with any aspect of the way the hearing is conducted must say so before the proceedings go any further and his/her comment will be minuted.
3.3.12 Adjournment: the Chair may, at his/her discretion, adjourn the hearing for further investigation of any relevant issue. This may include an adjournment to take legal advice.
3.3.13 Decision: after due consideration of the matters discussed at the hearing, the Panel shall reach a decision unless there is an agreed position. The Panel’s decision, findings and any recommendations may be notified orally at the hearing or subsequently and shall be confirmed in writing to the complainant by email where appropriate within seven working days. If the complainant does not wish to receive the decision by email, a copy will be provided or posted. The decisions, findings and any recommendations will be made available for inspection on the College premises by the Proprietor and Principal. Reasons for the decision will be given. The decision may include recommendations and will be sent to the complainant, the Complaints Co-ordinator, the Principal and, where relevant, any person about whom the complaint has been made.
3.3.14 Private proceeding: a hearing before the Complaints Panel is a private proceeding. No notes or other records or oral statements about any matter discussed in or arising from the proceeding shall be made available directly or indirectly to the press or other media.
A written record will be kept of all complaints, and of whether they are resolved at Stage 1 or proceed to a panel hearing. The written record includes any actions taken by the school as a result of the complaint, whether it was upheld or not. Correspondence, statements and records relating to individual complaints are to be kept confidential except where the Secretary of State or a body conducting an inspection under section 109 of the 2008 Act requests access to them. In accordance with data protection principles, details of individual complaints will normally be destroyed following each school inspection. In exceptional circumstances some details will be retained for a further period as necessary.
4. Record of complaints
Complaints taken to stages 2 and 3 in the preceding year = 0
5. Review following complaints
The Complaints Co-ordinator will assess whether it is appropriate, following a complaint, to carry out an investigation into wider systemic issues.
Effective date of the policy
Teaching staff / all staff / parents / Students on request