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NFER March 2020
NFER March 2020

How to handle parental complaints made online

March 3, 2020, 5:13 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • Put a policy in place and publicise it, says The Key’s Kaley Foran...
How to handle parental complaints made online

Dealing with complaints from parents is time-consuming. In a recent poll of 1,000 of our school leader members, 84 per cent said they are distracted by complaints from parents about their school’s approach.

Striking a balance between listening to parents’ concerns, encouraging them to follow the school’s complaints process, and enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to aggressive or inappropriate behaviour, is crucial - but easier said than done.

Indeed, social media has increased the complexity, with schools now handling criticisms both on-site and online. Here’s what you can do to prevent complaints from escalating online and deal with inappropriate behaviour if it does occur.

Create an internet acceptable use agreement

You can use this to set clear guidelines and expectations on how parents should use social media (or other forums) when they communicate with or about your school.

You can’t require parents to sign an acceptable use agreement, but using one can help you explain what kinds of behaviour you won’t tolerate.

Include social media use in a parent code of conduct

Some schools do this as well as, or instead of, having an internet acceptable use agreement. Parent codes of conduct aren’t legally binding, but you can use one to set out things like:

  • The school’s expectations of parents
  • How the school will respond to inappropriate behaviour
  • The headteacher’s right to ban parents from the school premises

Publicise your policies

so parents follow the right procedures Parents may turn to social media if they don’t know how to raise a complaint or handle an incident in the right way. Make sure parents know about your policies and procedures on things like complaints and behaviour.

To do this:

  • Make sure your policies are easy to find on your school website
  • Regularly remind parents about key policies in newsletters or other updates
  • Make copies of policies available at parents’ evenings, or set aside time to talk about them to parents

Send letters to parents to address incidents of misuse

Have a template letter ready to go, which you can easily adapt to respond quickly to common incidents:

  • A parent complaining about the school or an individual member of staff
  • Inappropriate comments about a member of staff or other parents or pupils
  • A parent discussing a behaviour incident
  • A parent posting a picture of another child online without consent

Use the letter to remind the parent of the expectations of them, the policy or procedure they should follow (if relevant) and why it’s important they do this. Also let them know who they should speak to if they want to discuss the incident further.

In the most serious cases, you may be able to ban the parent or take legal action

Headteachers have the power to ban a parent from the school site if they believe they pose a threat to staff or pupils. It doesn’t matter whether the abuse happened in person or over social media.

Always try to resolve the situation face-to-face first but, if this proves unsuccessful, you can then write to the parent asking them not to visit the school unless invited to (such as for a parents’ evening). But do seek legal advice first.

Avoid taking legal action if at all possible, as it can be complex and expensive. If you decide this is the right course of action, make sure you seek high-quality, reliable advice.

Kaley Foran is a Lead Content Editor at The Key, a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act. The Key worked with one of its associate experts, Lucinda Bell – a senior lawyer specialising in education law who provides advice to schools and governors – to write this article.

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