Annex A: FAQs for parents
How do I make a complaint about an independent school?
Every independent school should have a complaints procedure which sets out clearly the process and timescales for handling complaints. This should include details of how you escalate your complaint if you are not content with how it has been handled or the outcome.
If you are unsuccessful or unsatisfied in your attempts to resolve the issue with the school, or would like advice on the matter, you may of course contact the Registrar. But note that neither the Registrar nor the Scottish Ministers have a function to handle or adjudicate on complaints about independent schools.
Do I need to complain to the school before I contact the Registrar of Independent Schools?
No, you can contact the Registrar of Independent Schools at any time, However most complaints can be resolved satisfactorily by the school and their Board of Governors. So we would encourage you to raise the matter with the school first of all.
Will the Registrar of Independent Schools look into and make a judgement on my specific complaint?
No. Neither the Registrar of Independent Schools nor the Scottish Ministers will investigate your specific complaint or make a judgement on your complaint. Neither has a power to do so.
The Scottish Ministers will determine (decide) whether the school is or is not currently 'objectionable' (i.e. that any of the statements in Annex A are true of the school you are complaining about) or at risk of becoming objectionable (meaning that the school could become objectionable if they do not take corrective action) and whether enforcement action is appropriate or not.
For example: You may provide information on where there may be weaknesses or issues in how the school is delivering its services. The Registrar may then share this information and request further information from the school in response.
If your concerns relate to your child being bullied, the Registrar may request information from the school such as the school's anti-bullying policies and enquire as to how the school responds to bullying. The Registrar may also ask the link HM Inspector for that school whether they have any concerns regarding bullying at the school, and how bullying allegations are handled there.
The Registrar would then provide advice to the Scottish Ministers as to whether the school is objectionable on the ground: "that the welfare of a pupil attending the school is not adequately safeguarded and promoted there" (as bullying is a welfare issue).
Should the Scottish Ministers be satisfied: "that the welfare of a pupil attending the school is not adequately safeguarded and promoted there" then the Scottish Ministers may take regulatory action (i.e. impose conditions or serve a notice of complaint) in respect of the school.
It may not always be necessary or proportionate to take regulatory action: in this example, the school may already be working to improve practice and regulatory action would be of no benefit. Instead, HM Inspectors may assist the school in developing and implementing best practice.
What will the Registrar do?
The Registrar's role is to find out about the school, seek professional advice (from HM Inspectors or the Care Inspectorate, for example) and provide advice to the Scottish Ministers on whether the school is objectionable, or at risk of becoming objectionable, on any of the grounds listed in Annex A.
The information provided by parents and other individuals is very important as it often provides the initial information on where there may be an issue with a school.
It is important during this process of gathering information that there is transparency and both the school and the individual making the complaint have sight of relevant information.
Sometimes, where appropriate or necessary, the Registrar will share the school's responses with you for comment.
What can the Scottish Ministers do?
The Scottish Ministers will consider whether the school is currently objectionable, or currently at risk of becoming objectionable, on any of the grounds listed in Annex A. The Registrar will then write to you to let you know what decision was made.
If the Scottish Ministers find the school objectionable, or at risk of becoming objectionable, on any of the grounds listed in Annex A, they may take regulatory action against the school.
What is regulatory action?
Where a school is objectionable, the Scottish Ministers may serve a notice of complaint on the school – this is a document that will tell the school why they have been found objectionable and instruct the school to take action to improve.
The Scottish Ministers can, if it is considered necessary, order the Registrar to remove a school from the register – effectively closing the school.
Where a school is at risk of becoming objectionable on any of the grounds in Annex A, the Scottish Ministers may, if it is considered necessary, impose a condition or conditions on the school. Conditions compel a school to take corrective action.
Where enforcement action has been taken, HM Inspectors will visit and report on the school's progress. The Scottish Ministers will then decide whether further action is necessary.
What about incidents in the past?
As explained previously, the Scottish Ministers will determine whether a school is currently
objectionable, or currently at risk of becoming objectionable.
The Scottish Ministers will not make a determination (decision) on whether a school was previously objectionable or not, or otherwise adjudicate on an allegation made in respect of a school.
Why won't the Scottish Ministers look at the past?
Regulatory action is directed at improving an independent school as opposed to being a punitive measure (punishment).
While a school could have been objectionable previously, it is the school's current performance (and potential future performance) that is relevant – the Scottish Ministers do not have the power to take retrospective action.
What about fees?
Even where a school has been found objectionable, the Scottish Ministers have no powers to force a school to repay or waive school fees.
The Scottish Ministers cannot look into breach of contract or any financial issues that may exist between you and a school, Again, you may wish to consider legal action through the civil court.
How long does the process take?
The Registrar endeavours to respond to all correspondence as promptly as possible. However as the process involved exchanges of information this can mean the process may take some time. At each step in the process the Registrar will make clear the timescales for responding.
What if I am unhappy with the outcome?
Once the process has been concluded, the Registrar of Independent Schools will only re- open it on receipt of information which may materially affect the previous conclusion.
You may send any new information to email@example.com for consideration.
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