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Raising concerns and making complaints

Tips for talking to the school


If you would like to raise something with the school (for example a concern, an issue or propose a change), it’s usually a good idea to talk directly to the school first. You can do this in person, on the phone, or via email.

If you have an issue, remember that there’s likely to be an ongoing relationship between you, your child and the staff. Often issues can be resolved without a formal complaint, and this can save you time. You still have the option to make a complaint later.

The recommended process is to:

  1. Check the school’s complaints procedure – this should be available online or you can ask for a copy at the school office or via email. This will help you know what to expect.
  2. Contact the appropriate staff member – for example, the class teacher, syndicate leader or dean.
  3. Discuss the matter with the principal if you’re not satisfied with the staff member’s response.
  4. Check the school’s complaints procedure has been followed – make sure the school has listened to your concerns properly and carried out its processes properly.
  5. Write to the school board – address your letter to the Chair of the School Board.

It can be helpful to discuss your issue with someone else – a friend, family, or someone from the free Student Rights Service phoneline (0800 499 488).

If you’re unhappy with the school’s response, you may want to take your complaint to an outside organisation – see below.

Information for parents and whānau

This section has some things you might like to keep in mind if you are trying to resolve an issue with the school or a teacher. They are techniques used in dispute resolution (In this context, dispute resolution are all processes that can be used to come to an agreement, like mediation).

They might be useful if, for example, you have a meeting with the principal about a suspension or you would like to bring up concerns you have about a teacher. Often these can be quite tense.

Figure out what’s important to you

Before meeting with the other person, think about what is important to you in the situation. Is it:

  • Staying in school?
  • Feeling safe?
  • Getting more help?
  • Is it something else?

For example, you might feel very angry at a teacher and want to make a formal complaint.

Get to the heart of what you’re feeling

Are you feeling bullied by the teacher?

Do you feel like the teacher isn’t listening to you?

Are you feeling frustrated that your concerns haven’t been addressed?

You could speak to the teacher and explain how you or your child is feeling. This might resolve the situation without the need for a formal complaint.

Think about what’s important to the other side too

You might want to ask them why they have a certain view or way of doing things.

For example, if the principal wants to punish your child for bullying, you could ask them: “What’s your main priority in this situation?”. If you’re seeking extra support for your child and the school is reluctant to provide it, you could ask “Why haven’t you been able get extra teaching support?”

Maybe the principal is mainly concerned about keeping other learners safe, or is worried about funding. You might be able to think of ways to work around this. For example, you could suggest that your child go to counselling and that a stand-down isn’t necessary.

Build relationships

There is an ongoing relationship between whānau, students, and the school. If you can, try to work in a way that helps these relationships. Hopefully, it will set you up well for the future.

If you are meeting with a teacher or principal, build a good relationship as soon as possible. For example, you could:

  • call them before the meeting
  • ask if there’s anything you can bring or do to help the meeting to run smoothly.

Focus on the result

Try to separate the symptoms of the problem from the person you’re talking with. Avoid blaming the other side if you can, and stay focused on the result you want.

This doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge harm. For example:

Instead of… You could say…
“You’re not protecting our child from bullying. You’re failing your duties.” “Our child has been bullied three times this week. We want your advice on how we can stop it. Do you have any ideas?”
“You’ve been mistreating our family, and now we can’t trust you.” “We feel very upset. We’re worried that an agreement won’t be kept even if we reach one. Rational or not, that’s our concern. Do you feel the same way?”

Acknowledge emotions and get support

You’re likely to be dealing with difficult and frustrating situations. To help manage emotions:

  • Have a support person with you, who can remain calm and take the lead in the conversation if you need them to.
  • Ask to take a break. Call someone, go for a quick walk, or sit outside until you feel better.
  • If the other side is becoming emotional or frustrated, you could also suggest a break.
  • Try to listen quietly while the others involved describe their thoughts. It helps to keep frustration from building, and hopefully they’ll do the same for you.

Provide information

If the principal, teacher, or board has the wrong idea about something, look for ways to educate them and give some resources. This might help them make a more informed decision.

For example, if an issue relates to healthcare needs, bring information from your doctor.

Give some solutions

Think about:

  • what your ideal outcome is,
  • how your suggestions are consistent with the school’s values, rules and guidelines,
  • how your suggestions are good for the school,
  • the school’s duty to keep other students safe – recognise this, and make suggestions that will ensure other students’ safety.

For example, the school might be known for its zero-tolerance to vaping and has a policy that students will be suspended for vaping. If your child was caught vaping at school, you could suggest that your child goes to counselling instead and gets help to stay at school. The principal or board might be worried about responding differently than they have in the past.

Sample letters

Letter to principal requesting reasons for suspension, and copy of principal’s report

You could send this as a letter or attach it as a PDF in an email.

You have a right to this information under sections 14(1) and 18(2) of the Education and Training Act 1989 and also section 12 of the Official Information Act 1982.

Dear/Tēnā koe [name],

My [child/son/daughter, their name,] has been suspended from the school. Please:

let me know the reasons for the suspension

send me a full copy of your report about the suspension to the school board as soon as possible

include any other information that’ll be presented to the board.

Please also send:

(a) a copy of the school charter or strategic plan

(b) a copy of any written school rules

(c) a copy of any other relevant policies from the school board

Yours faithfully/Ngā mihi,

[your name]

Letter to school board asking to review a suspension

Dear/Tēnā koe [name of chairperson],

On [date] we attended a school board disciplinary hearing with our [child/son/daughter, their name]. We don’t think the meeting was carried out fairly because:

[state reasons]

As we think the meeting was procedurally unfair, we know we could ask the Ombudsman to consider our case.

But first we think the school should be given a chance to fix the situation. So, we ask that:

you lift the suspension and reinstate [name] at [name of school], or

the board has another hearing to discuss our concerns fully.

We know the board is under no legal obligation to review the decision. But we’ve considered all options and believe this is the best case scenario for all involved.

Please let us know your decision within the next five days.

Yours faithfully/Ngā mihi,

[your name]

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Raising concerns and making complaints

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