Complaints and Suggestions
CSO Operational Policy
Complaints and Suggestions Policy for the Diocese of Armidale
Revised May 2017
COMPLAINTS & SUGGESTIONS POLICY FOR THE DIOCESE OF ARMIDALE
Catholic schools in the Diocese of Armidale are committed to providing a safe and supportive environment. This is characterised by fairness, mutual trust, respect and reconciliation. A safe and supportive environment is developed when all members of a school community promote open communication, tolerance and positive relationships and embrace responsive, just and transparent processes. When clear preventative policies are applied consistently and issues that can give rise to complaints are identified early, matters can be resolved before they escalate to the point where relationships are damaged. To promote positive and effective relationships all staff are encouraged to recognise the distinction between personal and professional conflict so that appropriate relationships can be maintained, even where there might be professional disagreement.
Complaints and suggestions can be opportunities for growth and improvement. Complaints, as well as compliments and other constructive feedback create opportunities for a school to improve its services and prevent future problems. A community that is open to complaints and suggestions is characterised by signs of impartiality and confidentiality, respect for the dignity of those involved, and is proactive in ensuring there is no fear of victimisation. The processes in the Complaints Handling Procedure are to ensure procedural fairness, with a fair hearing and a reasonable decision.
THE COMPLAINTS HANDLING PROCEDURE HELPS BUILD A SAFE AND SUPPORTIVE CULTURE AS IT;
• Encourages early intervention in issues before they damage working relationships
• Ensures that behaviours destructive to positive relationships (such as bullying, harassment and discrimination) are identified as being unacceptable and are appropriately managed
• Ensures that complaints are dealt with consistently
• Enables a school community to identify patterns of unacceptable conduct and enables prevention strategies to be developed and implemented
• Encourages individuals, with support, to resolve issues directly without third party intervention, and reduces the likelihood that external agencies will need to be involved
The Complaints Handling Procedure forms an important element in the Diocese’s commitment to ensuring safe and supportive environments for our school communities. School executives are responsible for ensuring that it is explained, that the processes for raising matters of concern are well understood, and that the processes for responding to matters of concern are implemented.
COMPLAINTS HANDLING PROCEDURE
1.1 Purpose of a Complaints Procedure
In our Catholic Schools we are committed to providing a safe and supportive working and learning environment for all employees and students. We acknowledge that employees, students and parents can sometimes feel aggrieved about something that is happening at the school which appears to be discriminatory, constitutes harassment or causes concern.
An employee, student, parent or community member can have a complaint or suggestion about any decision, behaviour, policy, act or omission (whether by the Principal, members of the leadership team or other staff/students) that they feel is discriminatory or unreasonable.
Sometimes the aggrieved person can address the issue by raising the complaint directly with the person involved with the issue. However, that is not always possible, and sometimes several attempts at local or face-to-face resolution may have been attempted or may have taken place with little success. Whilst most issues can be resolved through direct discussion with the parties, there may be instances in which to take up the issue with the other person on a face-to-face basis is not possible.
1.2 Examples of complaints covered by this procedure include:
• issues related to student discipline procedures
• issues related to learning and teaching
• damage/loss of personal property
• bullying and harassment
1.3 In conjunction with this complaints procedure, note should be taken of relevant legislation, guidelines, policies and procedures pertinent to the issue, including for instance:
• Work Health and Safety issues
• Child Protection issues, e.g.
• The Care and Protection of our Children and Young People
• Professional Conduct and Child Protection
• Enrolment Policy and Procedures
• Suspension Exclusion Policy
• Staff Relations Policy
1.4 Making a complaint
Some complaints, because of the seriousness of their nature, should be referred immediately to the Principal – e.g. complaints about behaviour which places others at risk of serious harm.
Parents should not approach the children of other families with a school related complaint. This is often a sensitive area and in order to protect all the parties it is advisable to work through the relevant teacher or member of the school leadership team.
1.4.1 Before making a formal complaint.
If a problem or concern that arises within a school cannot be resolved with the person involved with the issue, then it would normally be raised with an appropriate staff member with a view to discussing the issue and seeking resolution of any problems or concerns.
1.4.2 Making a formal complaint
If the above process of raising the concern, obtaining the facts, and obtaining resolution has not produced a satisfactory outcome, the following procedure can be used.
The purpose of this procedure is to offer a process by which employees/students/parents/community members can have complaints addressed. For example, if you feel that you are being harassed or discriminated against, this complaints handling procedure is available to you so your concerns can be dealt with in an appropriate manner.
WHO MAY USE THIS PROCEDURE?
• All employees
• Students within the school
• Parents of students at the school
• Members of the wider community
2. KEY ELEMENTS OF OUR COMPLAINTS HANDLING PROCEDURE
When a complaint is made, it will be investigated in a fair and impartial manner. No judgements or assumptions will be made, and no action will be taken until the investigation is complete. If a complaint is made against you, your rights will be protected and you will be given an opportunity to tell your side of the story.
You can feel secure that if you do make a complaint under this procedure it will remain confidential. The only people who will have access to information about the complaint will be the person making the complaint, the person to whom the complaint is made, the person investigating and Catholic Schools Office staff who may be involved. The person about whom the complaint is made also has a right to be informed.
2.3 No victimisation
You can also rest assured that if you make a complaint you will not suffer in any way as a consequence. The Principal of the school will ensure that a person who makes a complaint and members of that person’s family are not victimised in any way.
2.4 Vexatious or malicious complaints
There is an underlying assumption that complaints are made in good faith (and with good will) and with an intention for resolution as opposed to retribution.
Each complaint will be finalised within as short a period of time as possible. Complainants will be advised if the matter cannot be finalised within one month.
3. WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A COMPLAINT
3.1 Approach the person involved
In many situations, the most appropriate thing to do first is to tell the person who is the cause of the complaint how you feel. If the complaint is about their behaviour, tell them that you find it offensive/hurtful/not acceptable. If it is about a work decision, tell them why you think it is discriminatory or harassment or so unreasonable. Telling the person will give them a chance to stop or change what they are doing or explain what they had decided and why.
3.2 Contact the School
Where you feel you cannot approach the person directly or you are not happy with their response or reaction, then you can explain the problem to the appropriate person at the school. An inquiry at the school reception may be the first point of contact for people with complaints. You will be advised as to the person designated to deal with the nature of the complaint. This person may be a Co-ordinator or the Assistant Principal or Principal. The designated person will advise you of your options and what will happen if you make a formal complaint.
3.3 Contact the Catholic Schools Office – Diocesan School Consultant
Where you feel you cannot approach the person directly or you are not happy with their response or reaction, and you have a good reason not to raise the issue either with the school designated person or the school Principal, then you can contact the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) and explain the problem and issues. The CSO Diocesan School Consultant will usually discuss with you the issue of raising your concerns at the school level. The Diocesan School Consultant can also advise you about your options. Please note that if the Diocesan School Consultant forms the views that your complaint is more appropriately dealt with at the school level, then you will be advised of that and the school will be advised as well. Where students and parents make complaints these will automatically be referred to the school unless the complaint is against a decision of or about the Principal and has previously been raised with the Principal without resolution.
4. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
4.1 Once you have made the complaint to the designated school or CSO person, that person will then consider whether there are any reasons why he/she should not proceed to deal with the complaint. For example, the person you complained about may be a personal friend. If there is such a reason which indicates it is inappropriate for the designated person to deal with your complaint, it will, with your consent, be referred to another appropriate person.
4.2 The designated person will then interview you or organise another appropriate person to interview you. During this interview a number of things will be explained to you, such as what will happen if the complaint is found to be supported by the evidence, or if it is found to be not supported by the evidence. You will also be told where you can go for assistance if you are not happy with the way the school/CSO is dealing with the complaint. The designated person will then take a written record of the complaint.
4.3 The designated person will then speak to the person about whom the complaint is made to hear their side of the story. Any witnesses will also be interviewed. These interviews will be conducted separately and impartially.
Written reports about the complaint may be requested. The importance of confidentiality will be stressed to all parties and they will be warned of the consequences if there is a breach of confidentiality (e.g. possible defamation action, initiation of a complaint for harassment).
4.4 The designated person will then tell you what the other people said and discuss what should be done to sort out the problem. You should tell the person what action you would like taken, e.g. a written apology from the person, a written warning, a change in policy or procedure etc. This allows the designated person to understand, from your perspective, what you believe you need from the process. It will not dictate the remedy that might ultimately apply.
If the complaint remains unresolved it will be reviewed by either the Principal, Diocesan School Consultant or Director of Catholic Schools. They will make a final decision as to the outcome of the complaint.
Note that this review step will only be possible if the Principal or Diocesan School Consultant has not been acting as the designated person.
6. POSSIBLE OUTCOMES
6.1 If the complaint is upheld or sustained, the following are possible outcomes depending on the nature of the complaint:
• An agreement between the parties
• A verbal apology
• A written apology
• Disciplinary action
• Review of policy or procedures
Where staff members are the subject of a complaint, action taken may be as part of staff disciplinary procedures. Where students are the subject of a complaint, action taken may be as stated in the relevant student discipline and pastoral care policies. Where the complaint is about a policy or procedure it may result in a review and/or change in the policy or procedure.
6.2 If a complaint is not upheld or not substantiated (e.g. there is insufficient evidence) but some issues come out of the investigation that are required to be addressed then, possible outcomes include:
• Relevant training for employees and/or students; and/or
• Monitoring of the behaviour of employees and/or students
• Counselling for the aggrieving person
• Mediation at the local level.
6.3 If the complaint is proved not to have happened at all, or if there is evidence that the complaint was made with the main purpose or intent of causing distress to the other named as the source of the grievance, the following are possible outcomes:
• Counselling for the person who made the complaint
• A written apology
• An official warning
• Referral for disciplinary action for students and staff
The relevant designated person will make sure that whatever outcome is decided upon actually happens. The designated person or the school Principal (unless they are the object of the complaint or grievance) will also assess the effectiveness of the outcome from time to time.
There are three avenues of appeal if you feel that the complaints procedure has not been followed properly, or that the outcome is unacceptable to you.
7.1 Appeals at school level
Appeals at school level are to be referred to the Principal if the Principal has not been involved in investigating or examining the complaints, or is not the person named as the source of the grievance. If the Principal has been involved, the appeal should be referred to the Diocesan School Consultant.
The appeal will consider:
• The way the complaint was handled and examines the outcome
• If he/she believes it was handled properly and that the outcome was appropriate he/she will take no further action
• If he/she thinks that the complaint was not handled properly, or that the outcome was inappropriate, he/she will organise for the complaint to be looked at again
7.2 Appeals at Catholic Schools Office level
• To the Diocesan School Consultants at the Catholic Schools Office, or any designated officer for receiving complaints, where the appeal is from the school.
• If the complaint has been received and managed by the Catholic Schools Office then the appeal is to the Director, as appropriate.
SOMEONE OTHER THAN THE PERSON WHO FIRST HANDLED THE COMPLAINT WILL ALWAYS DEAL WITH AN APPEAL.
7.3 To an external agency
If you are not happy with the way your complaint has been dealt with by the school or the Catholic Schools Office, you may wish to go to an external agency for further advice and assistance. You may take your complaint to the external agency at any stage in the procedure if you are unhappy with progress in dealing with your complaint. The agencies that would most likely have jurisdiction are:
• Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (Federal)
• NSW Anti Discrimination Board
• NSW Ombudsman
8. CHILD PROTECTION PROCEDURES
Nothing in this document replaces procedures developed by the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations, the Armidale Catholic Schools Office and the Independent Education Union of NSW/ACT in respect of the investigation of matters arising under Part 3A Ombudsman Act 1974.
9. RECORD KEEPING
Records of complaints, interviews and other documentation relating to a complaint are kept at the school (where dealt with at school level) in a separate secure complaints file. If the complaint is about a person, documents are placed in a restricted access file. If there are any serious ongoing management or care issues relating to a complaint, there will need to be a cross-reference to the restricted file on the staff member or student file.
A register of complaints and suggestions will be kept at each school and the Catholic Schools Office.
10. DESIGNATED PERSONS FOR COMPLAINTS
10.1 At the school
Each school will consider the local school context and organisation and will nominate the designated person/s responsible for dealing with complaints in specific areas of school activity. When this occurs it should be clearly communicated to staff, parents and students, as relevant. A designated person will generally be a Co-ordinator or the Assistant Principal or Principal. If you are uncertain about who is the designated person for a specific issue, then contact the school office for this information.
10.2 At the Catholic Schools Office
The designated person at the Catholic Schools Office for complaints that are not able to be dealt with or resolved at the school will generally be the Diocesan School Consultant who is responsible for the particular school.
Acknowledgement to the CEO Wollongong for providing the source material for this policy.
Revised May 2017