There are lots of different ways you can complain or try to put some pressure on to get your voice heard. This page gives some very basic advice about the channels available to parents. It does not cover additional support needs, as there are much better ways for parents of such children to get involved – see the Parentzone website as a starting point.
Firstly, you should contact the headteacher at the school. Give them the chance to get it right, as most will, most of the time.
There are other things you can do at school level – you could raise your problem with the Parent Council. Every school should have a Parent Council – details should be on your school’s website, but if not, you can contact the school office for contact details of the Chair or Secretary.
If that doesn’t resolve matters, then you should make a complaint through your council’s complaints procedures. It should tell you how to do that on their website.
If this doesn’t resolve matters you should be able to ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to look at it. They exists to handle complains about Scottish public authorities, and they look to see whether the proper process has been followed. You can only do this after you have exhausted the complaints procedure at the council.
If you have concerns about the professional competence and conduct of a teacher, you could complain to the General Teaching Council for Scotland. All teachers working in public schools in Scotland must be registered with GTCS, and must maintain compliance with their Standard for Full Registration. Some officials in councils will be registered teachers too, though they don’t have to be. If you are unhappy with a headteacher or member of the school management team, you could check if they are compliant with the Standard for Leadership and Management.
Where a school, council or other educational body is failing to fulfill their statutory duties, you can make a complaint to Scottish Ministers under section 70 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. A complaint under this would be passed to inspectors at Education Scotland to investigate. Where a complaint is upheld, Scottish Ministers (effectively the Scottish Government) can order the school or council to fix the problem. You can get a form that will help you submit a complaint in this way on the Scottish Government website.
(The Scottish Government is consulting on repealing section 70. If you wish to comment on this, you can read the consultation paper and fill out a response form here. Responses must be sent by 28 March 2014.)
You could ask for the help of a local councillor or Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) to intervene on your behalf. Remember that you will have three or four councillors covering your area – contact your local authority to check who your councillors are. You also have eight MSPs – a constituency MSP, and seven regional MSPs, so you can choose who you want to speak to. To find out who your MSPs are and how to contact them, check the Scottish Parliament website or use this postcode search tool. Remember that councillors and MSPs hold surgeries, so you can always go and speak to them directly.
Education in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, as is local government, so it’s unlikely that your MP would be more able to help, though there’s nothing to stop you from approaching them.
Finally, if the school or council have taken a decision that you think was taken unfairly or unreasonably, you could speak to a lawyer about it as it may be possible to seek a judicial review. This is rare and can be very expensive, but for some it will be the right way to go. As a starting point you could contact the Education Law Unit within the Govan Law Centre, or the Scottish Child Law Centre in Edinburgh. The Education Law Unit is more focused on equality and human rights cases; their website has details of their reported cases, so you can get a flavour of what they do and what sort of thing can end up in the court.
You might need more information to help you assert your rights. You can do this through two main routes: data protection, and freedom of information.
The Data Protection Act gives you the right to see any information an organisation holds about you, or your children. You can demand that the school, council or anyone else sends you a copy of any information they hold or use about you or your child on paper or computer – this is called a subject access request. They can charge you up to £10 for their work, but in practice most public bodies don’t charge.
If you make a subject access request the data holder has 40 days to reply. If they refuse, don’t reply or only partially reply you can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office. If you make a request, do it in a recorded way – such as by email or by special delivery. The ICO website has lots of useful advice on how to make a request.
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 gives everyone the right to see any information held by Scottish public authorities, unless it is exempted. So you can’t see other people’s personal information for instance, but generally your rights under freedom of information are extensive. For example, I used it to find out how many December-born boys are deferred in West Lothian. The Scottish Information Commissioner’s website has examples of the kind of information people have requested, and there are tips for requesters too.
You can ask for the information anonymously, and you do not need to give a reason why you are asking. You can ask for information held on paper – including handwritten notes – or computer, and even on video or microfiche.
The authority – such as the council – have 20 days to reply. If they refuse or only give a partial reply you should ask for a review. If you’re still not happy, or if they don’t respond at all, you should complain to the Scottish Information Commissioner.
If the information you’re asking for is about the environment, you have even greater rights to see it and even less can be withheld. This could matter to you if you are concerned about something like air quality or ground pollution at your child’s school.
If you think other parents would be interested in your issue with the school or council, talk to them in the playground, in the Parent Council, and on facebook. You’re more likely to have influence as one of many voices instead of on your own. You could get several parents to sign a letter or even a petition.
You can get wider publicity by contacting a newspaper. Unless it’s a major issue, or one that is connected with something that’s controversial nationally, you would be best to contact a local newspaper. They’re generally interested in things that concern the local councils and if it is about a conflict, it’s more newsworthy.
Be very, very careful if you contact the media though. The newspaper you contact may see things differently from you, and may even paint you in a bad light. If you upset people they may dig around social media that you’ve posted and publicly criticise you – for a salutory lesson see this story, where a girl’s mum went to the media because she was sent home from a school trip for eating chocolate. Other parents posted a different story in the comments section below.
Best of luck, be brave, and we’re always interested to know how you got on. And if you think we could give you any help or advice, let us know.
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