The Knowledge

How are schools dealing with rising parental complaints?

As a new study shines a light on measures that could support schools to mitigate against rising parental complaints

As a new study shines a light on measures that could support schools to mitigate against rising parental complaints

27 May 2024, 5:00

The rising volume and complexity of complaints schools are handling has been a major theme in our conversations with school leaders ever since the pandemic.

Anecdotal evidence on this subject has now been supported by hard data. In Browne Jacobson’s spring 2024 School Leaders Survey – completed by more than 200 school and trust leaders collectively representing some 1,800 schools responsible for nearly a million pupils – nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) said complaints had increased this year, with 30 per cent reporting a ‘substantial rise’.

A broad range of issues are being raised, with support for special education needs, and behaviour and discipline cited by 20 per cent of schools that receive complaints. Other grievances relate to equality, discrimination and transgender issues (12 per cent), parental responsibility (10 per cent) and safeguarding (7 per cent).

The impact is clear: ninety per cent believe it’s having a detrimental impact on staff wellbeing, with quality of education and staff retention also cited among the knock-on effects.

Proactive complaints management

Our advice to schools has always been to adopt a proactive approach in their complaints-handling processes, rather than find themselves on the back foot when a grievance is raised.

It’s therefore pleasing to see many telling our survey about the various proactive steps they are taking.

Training is the most common, with 51 per cent saying this has been delivered to school leaders, 43 per cent to trustees and governors and 26 per cent to classroom staff.

Capacity to manage complaints has been addressed in some cases, with over one-quarter (26 per cent) of leaders reallocating staff time to manage investigations and 18 per cent appointing a complaints co-ordinator. Forty-three per cent have instructed legal advisers to support with complaints management.

Innovative solutions are being explored too. Some have introduced parental helpdesk technology and the use of an artificial intelligence-powered parental complaints portal to de-escalate complaints.

Reviewing procedures is a priority

Meanwhile, 39 per cent of schools have introduced a new complaints procedure as part of their internal reviews into managing the issue.

This should be priority number one for school leaders, who must be prepared to take a genuine, fresh and holistic review of the processes that underpin complaints management.

Auditing complaints will help them to identify common themes, gaps in staff training and potential improvements that could be made to communication with parents.

Small tweaks to communication can have large rewards. The CEO of one trust told us their school had not taken any new steps to complaints management processes. Instead, they had worked hard on their relationships with parents.

Indeed, equipping staff to deal with unhappy parents is often the best de-escalation strategy. The ability to explain what steps are being taken and manage expectations can prevent informal concerns from progressing into formal complaints.

Given that 71 per cent of respondents believe parents and carers are quicker to escalate concerns, this should be a major consideration.

New guidance on vexatious complaints

Within the wider issue of handling complaints is the thorny subject of vexatious complaints. Common behaviours fitting this broad description include personal attacks, excessive and overly complex emails, raising multiple complaints about the same issue and an insistence on unrealistic outcomes.

More than half (54 per cent) of the school leaders we surveyed say they want clearer government guidance on the difference between vexatious complaints and unreasonable behaviour, and how to handle them.

Evidence-based guidance from policymakers will help schools to comply with their legal obligations while feeling confident in their decision-making.

For example, understanding their statutory duties to respond, and the circumstances that may lead to restricting parents’ access to staff and school premises, will help leaders to create suitable boundaries when dealing with these types of behaviours.

Enhanced guidance is crucial to give schools greater clarity over an issue that is becoming increasingly complex and draining resources.

But while we might expect this in due course, it won’t arrive overnight. This makes it all the more important for school leaders to understand the root causes and be proactive in initiating change from within.

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2 Comments

  1. V walker

    The whole system is collapsing. But If your child is in an academy there is no accountability and draconian behaviour policies and toxic cultures that promote ableist reward systems that exclude the vulnerable children in society, the failure of leaders to ensure that they support children and value community is a rare thing . Parents are constantly gaslighted for their parenting yet it’s schools that believe it’s appropriate to shame children punish them and use dystopian measures such as isolation and detentions for the most minor things and no one in education has picked up on the fact that perhaps the lens needs to be reversed where leaders are held accountable for offrolling , unlawful practices and poor training and cultures that contribute to persistence absence. More and more parents are home educating their children . Why is that? Why are so many parents being forced down this route. The government needs to address the cause and not treat the symptoms where ultimately parents are punished and academies act without fear of impunity.

  2. Schools are addressing the rise in parental complaints with proactive measures like enhanced training for staff and new complaint procedures. This article sheds light on these strategies. For those exploring education, consider top MBA and B.Tech colleges in Greater Noida, known for their comprehensive programs and reasonable MBA course fees.