The potential damage schools could face from not having a proper complaints handling process in place was further underlined last month, when the Victorian Education Department warned against people using social media to vent their frustrations with a school.
The Age newspaper reported the department’s new "statement of values" outlining expectations of staff, students and parents behaviour, which warns against the inappropriate use of “social media as a forum to raise concerns/make complaints against the school”.
While it’s a great idea to publish a “statement of values”, one of the primary reasons that students and parents turn to social media to vent their grievances is that the complaints handling procedures in most schools are totally inadequate.
In fact one could go as far as saying that in many schools only those complainants that take a heavy handed approach are actually heard. The vast majority of complaints are not heard, not recorded and not reported.
It is little wonder that students and parents take to social media to vent their grievances. It's an easy option when you cannot make yourself heard.
Unlike the pre-internet era when a complaint about a school had the chance to potentially travel by word-of-mouth around the school community, complaints now have the potential to go “viral” in a matter of hours.
On a slow news day you might even find your school the subject of unwanted media attention. This will invariably lead to reputational damage and loss of productivity as executive staff are called in to fight the fire. A fire that could easily have been avoided if only the complaint had been heard and managed properly in the first place.
The Introduction of the new Privacy Laws requiring schools to have a well-articulated complaints handling process in relation to the collection, use and disclosure of personal information, furthers the case for schools to start to take their complaints handling processes seriously and for School Councils to be demanding transparency as to the numbers and types of complaints that are being received by their school.