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Chair not following procedure

Discussion in 'Governors' started by constancem, May 9, 2015.

  1. Dear Stephen I am writing as clerk to a GB in a maintained school. A parent complaint has been made and one of the complaints is against the HT. We have recently appointed a new CoG and despite him having received the procedures, he would like to deal with the complaint in a different, more informal way. While I can understand that he is hopeful of goodwill from the parents, experience at our school has taught us to use the procedure and be thorough. I have asked him for the complaint letter so that I can start building a pack for the appeal committee but he does not want me to have this. I believe that at his previous school, which was clerked internally, he dealt with a lot of complaints single handed. The demographic group of the previous parents was far less professional than in our school, where parents can be more sophisticated and rigorous in their complaints. If he wishes to go ahead with ignoring the procedures, which were strengthened after the last complaint a couple of years back, what can I do to ensure that he complies. If he does not, as the clerk what do I do?
     
  2. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    Section 29 of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on schools to have a complaints policy / procedures in place and that it must be published. Do not allow this chair to circumvent your procedures follow them to the letter. I know a school at present who are in some considerable doo doo with the Department of Education because they did not follow their procedures on complaints. The dfe have the powers on complaint from a parent to engage sections 496 and 497 of the education act to make schools comply.

    As clerk your role is to advise professionally as you are doing. A decision to circumvent your procedures is one for the whole of the GB and not simply the chair who I doubt has been given delegated powers of this nature. I have known clerks communicate difficult matters like this to the whole of the GB. However the difficulty comes that you are being paid and to upset them might lose your position. I would also advise as clerk you contact the excellent Governorline and ask them for further advice.
     
  3. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    I can't help thinking that the more useful advice to the COG (GB) would be to amend the Complaints Procedure to allow exactly the sort of informal stage or mediation which the COG is doing, which is usually considered good practice.

    If I understand your post correctly the COG is not seeking to before going on to the formal 'governors committee' stage. If that's the situation then I don't think the chair is either circumventing or breaching the complaints procedure - presumably nothing in your procedure expressly prohibits the COG from an informal discussion with the complainant prior to starting the formal committee process?

    The DfE toolkit on complaints procedures recommends an informal stage to allow the COG to do exactly what your COG is doing (Stage 3 in their model procedure) and also states "An effective complaints procedure will encourage resolution of problems by informal means wherever possible" so if your procedures don't allow for this perhaps your procedures need reviewing?

    www.gov.uk/.../School_Complaints_Toolkit_2014.pdf

    I would be the last person to support COGs breaching procedure or unfairness to parents who complain but it's hard to see how any unfairness or disadvantage arises here. No-one is suggesting that the parents right to a formal hearing is being denied. If the informal mediation is successful then presumably everyone is happy. If it isn't then parents can go on to the formal hearing without having been disadvantaged.

    I'd let the COG get get on with it but monitor the timescales in your procedure for the formal committee hearing. Remind COG that he needs conclude his informal discussion with parents in a timely way. Meanwhile get the panel members set up with perhaps a provisional date. And remind COG that if the informal mediation is unsuccessful the COG cannot be on the governors complaints panel at the formal stage. Then recommend review of procedure to incorporate the informal stage.
     
  4. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    RW - As we do not know what this school's complaints policy is, it would be wrong to add in something that may not already be there. On the day in which a complaint is received, only the existing complaints policy/procedure can be used. The Dfe would take a dim view of a school altering its complaints procedure mid flow.

    The Dfe (2012) model toolkit is the procedure we use (it is not the best) This complaint is from a parent about the Headteacher. In our DfE model it states "If your complaint is about the headteacher, you should contact the chair of governors who will arrange for it to be investigated by a nominated member of the governing body". If the complaint was about the chair it would go to the clerk. Stage 1 aims to resolve the concern through informal contact at the appropriate level in school. Stage 3 is a review by a panel of governors.

    I would only allow the chair to respond to the complainant in the manner your procedures have laid down and the time-scales you have in place and not to deviate from it especially as you have said you have some savvy parents on board.

    If at a future point your GB want to review your procedure then that is a decision for later which will have no bearing on the timing of this current complaint.
     
  5. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    As an aside, montiagh and RW and out of interest, would you know if a similar DfE model tool kit was available and widely in use in 2008?

    The school of whose particular example I am thinking certainly had no s29 complaints policy/procedure in place.

    The complaint to which I refer was made by a member of staff against the Headteacher and was a complaint of corruption. It was addressed to the CoG and marked 'Private and Confidential'.

    The letter was intercepted by the Clerk to the Governors (an employee of the school), opened and given directly to the Headteacher, who then liaised with senior HR officers of the LA to ensure the CoG was not given access to it. The CoG was only eventually given the complaint to read once the HT and HR officer between them had decided how to 'manage' it.

    I am interested to know what options might have been available to pursue this at the time.
     
  6. montiagh

    montiagh New commenter

    Your scenario is tricky as you state no policy was in place. Your local authority will have given guidance in 2008 to maintained school (which then most schools were) so you could ask them for a copy of their guidance from 2008 as a good starting point and that would in my view be what the school should have been working to in absence of no policy.

    My mantra is that no school should be allowed an internal clerk. They must be independent and impartial but that will probably no happen.

    As you will know each school must have its own complaints policy / procedure and they will be updated from time to time. Yours didn't so the DfE guidance version of 2008 is not much use lawfully. The DfE 2008 assistance was just guidance and not a tool kit as it has been for the last two incarnations. The 2008 Guidance has probably been archived somewhere as life has moved on.

    I can only suggest that you look at version based on the 2008 guidance at the following for a steer.

    www.astoncofe.co.uk/.../127499.

    www.gov.uk/.../DFE-RR193.pdf

    How it was managed would still need to have been done lawfully and fully investigated and not swept under the carpet.
     
  7. GLsghost

    GLsghost Star commenter

    Thanks for that, montiagh. I'll do some more investigating - though the particular incident has since been subsumed in wider concerns. Now just curious.

    No, for the record: the complaint was not fully investigated (not at all, in fact), was swept under the carpet - and this with the full collusion of the LA's senior HR officer. Eventually the complaint found its way to the GTC(E) where the LA's legal services department put pressure on the regulator to drop any investigation.
     
  8. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    GLs, yes there was a DFE toolkit back in 2008 - the oldest version I've got saved is 2007 and it isn't very different to the current one. Schools back then, more so than now, also relied on LA models. LAs should have looked at the DFE toolkit when reviewing their model policies but no doubt there was an enormous range of practice. Some LAs based their model complaints procedures for schools on their wider corporate complaints procedures rather than a DFE model.

    The DFE toolkit has always been non-statutory guidance so no school has ever been legally required to have regard to it. The law (which is s29 of Education Act 2002, not 1996) of course did apply so the school you refer to should have had a complaints procedure and should have publicised it. If it didn't then it was in breach of s29.

    However, there's another issue. Would the complaint by the member of staff against the headteacher have been a grievance under employment law? I know this is your professional area rather than mine. If it was a grievance then I don't think the s29 complaints procedure would have been the relevant procedure anyway and it should have been considered under the grievance procedure (see the other thread of here "Grievance against a Chair"). The sentence I've quoted there about staff grievances was in the 2007 toolkit too (and indeed it's stated in s29 (1) (a) as well).
     

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