Queensland non-State schools have seen significant changes to their accreditation requirements in 2017. The new Education (Accreditation of Non-State Schools) Act 2017 (the Act) and Education (Accreditation of Non-State Schools) Regulation 2017 (the Regulation) take effect on 1 January 2018 and non-state schools must be conscious of their new obligations. Crucially, the new Regulation 7 "Complaints Procedure'' introduces a much more detailed requirement for schools to have a complaints handling program. Previously, schools were only required to do so as part of their general student health and safety obligations. While the Non-State Schools Accreditation Board is yet to update its 2016 Cyclical Review Guidelines to reflect the new Regulation, non-State schools must act now to comply with the Act and Regulation, ready for Term One 2018.
The current situation
Under the Education (Accreditation of Non-State Schools) Regulation 2001 (to be replaced by the Regulation in 2018), schools were required under Regulation 10(7) "Health, safety and conduct of staff and students" to have "a written complaints procedure to address allegations of non-compliance with the processes." The process reference is in relation to a school's duty to have processes in place to allow students to report allegations of harm and suspected or actual sexual abuse to staff members. Regulation 10(7A) also said that "The complaints procedure may form part of any other written procedure of the school for dealing with complaints." These requirements still exist in the new Regulation, however are now Regulations 16(5) and 16(6), respectively.
The combined effect of Regulations 10(7) and 10(7A) is that schools had to have written complaints procedures for students regarding the school's child safety reporting processes, and that process may form part of the school's existing complaints procedures - if they had them or not. Some schools may have chosen simply to rely on having a standalone complaints procedure which complied with Regulation 10(7).
Now, under the new Complaints Procedure section of the Regulation, schools can't avoid having a more comprehensive and detailed complaints handling program which applies to all types of complaints, not just those made in relation to child safety processes.
What is the new requirement?
Under new Regulation 7:
- a school must have, and implement, written processes about receiving, assessing, investigating and otherwise dealing with complaints made by its staff, students or a student's parent or guardian.
- the processes must include principles of procedural fairness, including, for example, the right for interested parties to have the complaint heard.
- the school's governing body must ensure:
- staff, students, parents and guardians are made aware of the processes; and
- the processes are readily accessible by staff, students, parents and guardians.
What is clear from the above new Regulation 7 is that schools must have detailed and accessible processes available to key stakeholders: staff, students, parents and guardians.
There is still an obligation under new Regulation 16 "Conduct of staff and students and response to harm'' for schools to have a written complaints procedure to address complaints regarding non-compliance with child safety reporting processes, but now, this requirement exists in addition to the broader obligations under the new Regulation 7.
How can schools comply with the complaints handling requirements?
Queensland is not the first jurisdiction to introduce detailed complaints handling requirements for schools as part of registration requirements. As explained in this paper Complaints Handling in Australian Schools – Walking the tightrope between ignorance and knowledge, every other jurisdiction now has a requirement to have some form of complaints handling or grievance policy and procedure. For example, the West Australian Guide to the Registration Standards and Other Requirements for Non-Government Schools requires schools to have complaints handling policies and procedures consistent with the Australian Standard for Complaint Management.
We have published many articles in the past regarding schools and complaints over the years, including a series of four articles that commence with ‘Why you should be encouraging complaints, based on ‘Managing Complaints – Walking the Tightrope Between Ignorance and Knowledge’ presented by Mr Field at the Australia and New Zealand Education Law Association (ANZELA) Conference in Adelaide on 2 October 2014.
The problem is, traditionally, schools have paid lip service to their obligations and often view in-depth complaints handling processes as excessively complex and burdensome. But with the recent updating of key international and Australian standards on effective complaints management, there is no justifiable reason why schools should avoid the implementation of a comprehensive and easy-to-use complaints handling program.
CompliSpace has recently released a new Complaints Handling Program that is consistent with both the international and Australian Complaints Handling Standards, and also meets registration requirements for all jurisdictions.
The CompliSpace Program has been developed following feedback from non-government school clients around the country, and ultimately aims to takes the ‘complaints policy’ and transform it into cultural change that sees a school actively encouraging and benefiting from all forms of feedback. The Program boasts a range of practical, step-by-step complaints management policies, procedures, staff training, investigation and reporting tools.
Upon the release of the Complaints Handling Program, CompliSpace Managing Director, David Griffiths, stated ‘The common theme we hear from schools is that they manage complaints on a daily basis - whether it be at the school gate or during more formal parent/teacher interviews, but they find that a comprehensive complaints handling process is overwhelming. When it came to designing the Complaints Handling Program for our school clients, we wanted to simplify a school's complaints handling systems and make it easy to report to the school's board and leadership team on any systemic issues that arise.’
CompliSpace is currently assisting clients in Queensland to ensure their Complaints Handling Programs are in place by 1 January 2018, if you would like more information on how they can assist you please register your interest here.
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