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Complaints Policy

Duck Street, Cerne Abbas, Dorset, DT2 7LA
‘The Small School with the Big Heart.’
Tel: 01300 341319         e-mail:         Website:


Date of policy            January 2023               

Date reviewed by the

Governing Body

FGB committee - 26/01/2023

Member of staff responsible

in Cerne Abbas CE VC

First School

Alex Ryan
Review dateDecember 2024


Complaints procedure




Governing Bodies of all maintained schools and maintained nursery schools in England are required, under Section 29 of the Education Act 2002 to have in place a procedure to deal with complaints relating to the school and to any community facilities or services that the school provides. The law also requires the procedure to be publicised. 


The Secretary of State has direction making powers under sections 496 and 497 of the Education Act 1996 and although they are not under a duty to intervene in every case that is brought to their attention, they must always consider whether, in light of the information provided to them by a complainant, they should exercise their powers.


Individuals contacting the local authority Dorset Council regarding a school complaint are advised to contact the school directly. The local authority Dorset Council can also provide advice and support to Head Teachers and governors in the operation of their complaints procedures through the Schools’ Complaints Service available from April 2013.


Whilst schools are free to adopt this policy in it’s entirety they must tailor it to their own requirements, failure to do so could result in the DfE finding the school to be in breach of legislative requirements.


Who can make a complaint?


This complaints procedure is not limited to parents or carers of children that are registered at the school. Any person, including members of the public, may make a complaint to Cerne Abbas CE VC First School about any provision of facilities or services that we provide. Unless complaints are dealt with under separate statutory procedures (such as appeals relating to exclusions or admissions), we will use this complaints procedure. 


The difference between a concern and a complaint


A concern may be defined as ‘an expression of worry or doubt over an issue considered to be important for which reassurances are sought’

A complaint may be defined as ‘an expression of dissatisfaction however made, about actions taken or a lack of action’.

It is in everyone’s interest that concerns and complaints are resolved at the earliest possible stage. Many issues can be resolved informally, without the need to use the formal stages of the complaints procedure. Cerne Abbas CE VC First School takes concerns seriously and will make every effort to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. 

If you have difficulty discussing a concern with a particular member of staff, we will respect your views. In these cases, the Head teacher will refer you to another staff member. Similarly, if the member of staff directly involved feels unable to deal with a concern, the Head Teacher will refer you to another staff member. The ability to consider the concern objectively and impartially is more important. 

We understand however, that there are occasions when people would like to raise their concerns formally. In this case, Cerne Abbas CE VC First School will attempt to resolve the issue internally, through the stages outlined within this complaints procedure.  


How to raise a concern or make a complaint


A concern or complaint can be made in person, in writing or by telephone. They may also be made by a third party acting on behalf of a complainant, as long as they have appropriate consent to do so. 

Concerns should be raised with either the class teacher or Head Teacher. If the issue remains unresolved, the next step is to make a formal complaint.  

Complainants should not approach individual governors to raise concerns or complaints. They have no power to act on an individual basis and it may also prevent them from considering complaints at Stage 2 of the procedure. 

Complaints against school staff (except the Head Teacher) should be made in the first instance, to Mrs Catherine Cresswell (the Head Teacher) via the school office. Please mark them as Private and Confidential.

Complaints that involve or are about the Head Teacher should be addressed to Dr Barbara Southcott (the Chair of Governors), via the school office. Please mark them as Private and Confidential.

Complaints about the Chair of Governors, any individual governor or the whole governing body should be addressed to Mrs Andrea Schafer (the Clerk to the Governing Body) via the school office. Please mark them as Private and Confidential.

For ease of use, a template complaint form is included at the end of this procedure. If you require help in completing the form, please contact the school office. You can also ask third party organisations like the Citizens Advice to help you.

In accordance with equality law, we will consider making reasonable adjustments if required, to enable complainants to access and complete this complaints procedure. For instance, providing information in alternative formats, assisting complainants in raising a formal complaint or holding meetings in accessible locations.


Anonymous complaints


We will not normally investigate anonymous complaints. However, the Head Teacher or Chair of Governors, if appropriate, will determine whether the complaint warrants an investigation.


Time scales


You must raise the complaint within three months of the incident or, where a series of associated incidents have occurred, within three months of the last of these incidents. We will consider complaints made outside of this time frame if exceptional circumstances apply.


Complaints received outside of term time


We will consider complaints made outside of term time to have been received on the first school day after the holiday period.


Scope of this Complaints Procedure


This procedure covers all complaints about any provision of community facilities or services by Cerne Abbas CE VC First School, other than complaints that are dealt with under other statutory procedures, including those listed below.


Exceptions        Who to contact
  • Admissions to schools
  • Statutory assessments of Special Educational Needs
  • School re-organisation proposals          

Concerns about admissions, statutory

assessments of Special Educational Needs, or school

re-organisation proposals should be raised with Dorset County Council.

  • Matters likely to require a Child Protection Investigation

Complaints about child protection matters are handled

under our child protection and safeguarding policy and in

accordance with relevant statutory guidance.

If you have serious concerns, you may wish to contact

the local authority designated officer (LADO) Patrick

Crawford, on 01305 2211252 who has local responsibility

for safeguarding or the Multi-Agency Safeguarding

Hub (MASH).

  • Exclusion of children from school*

Further information about raising concerns

about exclusion can be found at:


*complaints about the application of the


policy can be made through the school’s

complaints procedure

  • Whistleblowing

We have an internal whistleblowing procedure

for all our employees, including temporary

staff and contractors.


The Secretary of State for Education is the prescribed

person for matters relating to education for

whistleblowers in education who do not want

to raise matters direct with their employer.

Referrals can be made at:


Volunteer staff who have concerns about our school should complain through the school’s complaints

procedure. You may also be able to complain direct to

the LA or the Department for Education (see link above), depending on the substance of your complaint.

  • Staff grievances

Complaints from staff will be dealt with under

the school’s internal grievance procedures.

  • Staff conduct

Complaints about staff will be dealt with under the

school’s internal disciplinary procedures, if appropriate.


Complainants will not be informed of any disciplinary

action taken against a staff member as a result of a

complaint. However, the complainant will be notified that

the matter is being addressed.

  • Complaints about services provided by other providers who may use school premises or facilities

Providers should have their own complaints procedure to deal with complaints about service.

Please contact them direct.

  • National Curriculum - content

Please contact the Department for Education at:


If other bodies are investigating aspects of the complaint, for example the police, local authority (LA) safeguarding teams or Tribunals, this may impact on our ability to adhere to the timescales within this procedure or result in the procedure being suspended until those public bodies have completed their investigations. 

If a complainant commences legal action against Cerne Abbas CE VC First School in relation to their complaint, we will consider whether to suspend the complaints procedure in relation to their complaint until those legal proceedings have concluded. 


Resolving complaints


At each stage in the procedure, Cerne Abbas CE VC First School wants to resolve the complaint. If appropriate, we will acknowledge that the complaint is upheld in whole or in part. In addition, we may offer one or more of the following: 


  • an explanation
  • an admission that the situation could have been handled differently or better
  • an assurance that we will try to ensure the event complained of will not recur
  • an explanation of the steps that have been or will be taken to help ensure that it will not happen again and an indication of the timescales within which any changes will be made
  • an undertaking to review school policies in light of the complaint
  • an apology.


Withdrawal of a Complaint


If a complainant wants to withdraw their complaint, we will ask them to confirm this in writing.


Stage 1


Formal complaints must be made to the Head Teacher (unless they are about the Head Teacher), via the school office. This may be done in person, in writing (preferably on the Complaint Form), or by telephone. 

The Head Teacher will record the date the complaint is received and will acknowledge receipt of the complaint in writing (either by letter or email) within three school days. 

Within this response, the Head Teacher will seek to clarify the nature of the complaint, ask what remains unresolved and what outcome the complainant would like to see. The Head Teacher can consider whether a face to face meeting is the most appropriate way of doing this.  

Note: The Head Teacher may delegate the investigation to another member of the school’s senior leadership team but not the decision to be taken.

During the investigation, the Head Teacher (or investigator) will:


  • if necessary, interview those involved in the matter and/or those complained of, allowing them to be accompanied if they wish
  • keep a written record of any meetings/interviews in relation to their investigation.


At the conclusion of their investigation, the Head Teacher will provide a formal written response within ten school days of the date of receipt of the complaint. 

If the Head Teacher is unable to meet this deadline, they will provide the complainant with an update and revised response date.

The response will detail any actions taken to investigate the complaint and provide a full explanation of the decision made and the reason(s) for it. Where appropriate, it will include details of actions Cerne Abbas CE VC First School will take to resolve the complaint. 

The Head Teacher will advise the complainant of how to escalate their complaint should they remain dissatisfied with the outcome of Stage 1. 

If the complaint is about the Head Teacher, or a member of the governing body (including the Chair or Vice-Chair), a suitably skilled governor will be appointed to complete all the actions at Stage 1. 

Complaints about the Head Teacher or member of the governing body must be made to the Clerk, via the school office.
If the complaint is:


  • jointly about the Chair and Vice Chair or
  • the entire governing body or
  • the majority of the governing body


Stage 1 will be considered by an independent investigator appointed by the governing body. At the conclusion of their investigation, the independent investigator will provide a formal written response.


Stage 2


If the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome at Stage 1 and wishes to take the matter further, they can escalate the complaint to Stage 2 – a meeting with members of the governing body’s complaints committee, which will be formed of the first three, impartial, governors available. This is the final stage of the complaints procedure.

A request to escalate to Stage 2 must be made to the Clerk, via the school office, within three school days of receipt of the Stage 1 response. 

The Clerk will record the date the complaint is received and acknowledge receipt of the complaint in writing (either by letter or email) within three school days.

Requests received outside of this time frame will only be considered if exceptional circumstances apply.

The Clerk will write to the complainant to inform them of the date of the meeting. They will aim to convene a meeting within ten school days of receipt of the Stage 2 request. If this is not possible, the Clerk will provide an anticipated date and keep the complainant informed. 

If the complainant rejects the offer of three proposed dates, without good reason, the Clerk will decide when to hold the meeting. It will then proceed in the complainant’s absence on the basis of written submissions from both parties.

The complaints committee will consist of at least three governors with no prior involvement or knowledge of the complaint. Prior to the meeting, they will decide amongst themselves who will act as the Chair of the Complaints Committee. If there are fewer than three governors from Cerne Abbas CE VC First School available, the Clerk will source any additional, independent governors through another local school or through their LA’s Governor Services team, in order to make up the committee. Alternatively, an entirely independent committee may be convened to hear the complaint at Stage 2.

The committee will decide whether to deal with the complaint by inviting parties to a meeting or through written representations, but in making their decision they will be sensitive to the complainant’s needs. 

If the complainant is invited to attend the meeting, they may bring someone along to provide support. This can be a relative or friend. Generally, we do not encourage either party to bring legal representatives to the committee meeting. However, there may be occasions when legal representation is appropriate. 

For instance, if a school employee is called as a witness in a complaint meeting, they may wish to be supported by union and/or legal representation. 

Note: Complaints about staff conduct will not generally be handled under this complaints procedure. Complainants will be advised that any staff conduct complaints will be considered under staff disciplinary procedures, if appropriate, but outcomes will not be shared with them. 

Representatives from the media are not permitted to attend.

At least five school days before the meeting, the Clerk will:

  • confirm and notify the complainant of the date, time and venue of the meeting, ensuring that, if the complainant is invited, the dates are convenient to all parties and that the venue and 7 proceedings are accessible
  • request copies of any further written material to be submitted to the committee at least five school days before the meeting.


Any written material will be circulated to all parties at least four school days before the date of the meeting. The committee will not normally accept, as evidence, recordings of conversations that were obtained covertly and without the informed consent of all parties being recorded. 

The committee will also not review any new complaints at this stage or consider evidence unrelated to the initial complaint to be included. New complaints must be dealt with from Stage 1 of the procedure.

The meeting will be held in private. Electronic recordings of meetings or conversations are not normally permitted unless a complainant’s own disability or special needs require it. Prior knowledge and consent of all parties attending must be sought before meetings or conversations take place. Consent will be recorded in any minutes taken.

The committee will consider the complaint and all the evidence presented. The committee can:


  • uphold the complaint in whole or in part
  • dismiss the complaint in whole or in part.


If the complaint is upheld in whole or in part, the committee will:


  • decide on the appropriate action to be taken to resolve the complaint
  • where appropriate, recommend changes to the school’s systems or procedures to prevent similar issues in the future.


The Chair of the Committee will provide the complainant and Cerne Abbas CE VC First School with a full explanation of their decision and the reason(s) for it, in writing, within ten school days.


The letter to the complainant will include details of how to contact the Department for Education if they are dissatisfied with the way their complaint has been handled by the school.


If the complaint is:


  • jointly about the Chair and Vice Chair or
  • the entire governing body or
  • the majority of the governing body


Stage 2 will be heard by a committee of independent governors.


The response will detail any actions taken to investigate the complaint and provide a full explanation of the decision made and the reason(s) for it. Where appropriate, it will include details of actions Cerne Abbas CE VC First School will take to resolve the complaint.  

The response will also advise the complainant of how to escalate their complaint should they remain dissatisfied.


Next Steps


If the complainant believes the school did not handle their complaint in accordance with the published complaints procedure or they acted unlawfully or unreasonably in the exercise of their duties under education law, they can contact the Department for Education after they have completed Stage 2.

The Department for Education will not normally reinvestigate the substance of complaints or overturn any decisions made by Cerne Abbas CE VC First School. They will consider whether Cerne Abbas CE VC First School has adhered to education legislation and any statutory policies connected with the complaint. 


The complainant can refer their complaint to the Department for Education online at:, by telephone on: 0370 000 2288 or by writing to:


Department for Education

Piccadilly Gate

Store Street


M1 2WD.


Roles and Responsibilities




The complainant will receive a more effective response to the complaint if they:

  • explain the complaint in full as early as possible
  • co-operate with the school in seeking a solution to the complaint
  • respond promptly to requests for information or meetings or in agreeing the details of the complaint
  • ask for assistance as needed
  • treat all those involved in the complaint with respect
  • refrain from publicising the details of their complaint on social media and respect confidentiality.




The investigator’s role is to establish the facts relevant to the complaint by:


  • providing a comprehensive, open, transparent and fair consideration of the complaint through:
  1. sensitive and thorough interviewing of the complainant to establish what has happened and who has been involved
  2. interviewing staff and children/young people and other people relevant to the complaint
  3. consideration of records and other relevant information
  4. analysing information
  • liaising with the complainant and the complaints co-ordinator as appropriate to clarify what the complainant feels would put things right.


The investigator should:

  • conduct interviews with an open mind and be prepared to persist in the questioning
  • keep notes of interviews or arrange for an independent note taker to record minutes of the meeting
  • ensure that any papers produced during the investigation are kept securely pending any appeal
  • be mindful of the timescales to respond
  • prepare a comprehensive report for the Head Teacher or complaints committee that sets out the facts, identifies solutions and recommends courses of action to resolve problems.


The Head Teacher or complaints committee will then determine whether to uphold or dismiss the complaint and communicate that decision to the complainant, providing the appropriate escalation details.


Complaints Co-ordinator (Head Teacher or other staff member providing administrative support)


The complaints co-ordinator should:


  • ensure that the complainant is fully updated at each stage of the procedure
  • liaise with staff members, Head Teacher, Chair of Governors, Clerk and LAs (if appropriate) to ensure the smooth running of the complaints procedure
  • be aware of issues regarding:
  1. sharing third party information
  2. additional support. This may be needed by complainants when making a complaint including interpretation support or where the complainant is a child or young person
  • keep records.


Clerk to the Governing Body


The Clerk is the contact point for the complainant and the committee and should:


  • ensure that all people involved in the complaint procedure are aware of their legal rights and duties, including any under legislation relating to school complaints, education law, the Equality Act 2010, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)
  • set the date, time and venue of the meeting, ensuring that the dates are convenient to all parties (if they are invited to attend) and that the venue and proceedings are accessible
  • collate any written material relevant to the complaint (for example; stage 1 paperwork, school and complainant submissions) and send it to the parties in advance of the meeting within an agreed timescale
  • record the proceedings
  • circulate the minutes of the meeting
  • notify all parties of the committee’s decision.


Committee Chair


The committee’s chair, who is nominated in advance of the complaint meeting, should ensure that:


  • both parties are asked (via the Clerk) to provide any additional information relating to the complaint by a specified date in advance of the meeting
  • the meeting is conducted in an informal manner, is not adversarial, and that, if all parties are invited to attend, everyone is treated with respect and courtesy
  • complainants who may not be used to speaking at such a meeting are put at ease. This is particularly important if the complainant is a child/young person
  • the remit of the committee is explained to the complainant
  • written material is seen by everyone in attendance, provided it does not breach confidentiality or any individual’s rights to privacy under the DPA 2018 or GDPR. 
    If a new issue arises it would be useful to give everyone the opportunity to consider and comment upon it; this may require a short adjournment of the meeting 
  • both the complainant and the school are given the opportunity to make their case and seek clarity, either through written submissions ahead of the meeting or verbally in the meeting itself
  • the issues are addressed
  • key findings of fact are made
  • the committee is open-minded and acts independently
  • no member of the committee has an external interest in the outcome of the proceedings or any involvement in an earlier stage of the procedure
  • the meeting is minuted
  • they liaise with the Clerk (and complaints co-ordinator, if the school has one).


Committee Member


Committee members should be aware that:


  • the meeting must be independent and impartial, and should be seen to be so
    No governor may sit on the committee if they have had a prior involvement in the complaint or in the circumstances surrounding it. 
  • the aim of the meeting should be to resolve the complaint and achieve reconciliation between the school and the complainant 


We recognise that the complainant might not be satisfied with the outcome if the meeting does not find in their favour. It may only be possible to establish the facts and make recommendations.


  • many complainants will feel nervous and inhibited in a formal setting


Parents/carers often feel emotional when discussing an issue that affects their child. 


  • extra care needs to be taken when the complainant is a child/young person and present during all or part of the meeting


Careful consideration of the atmosphere and proceedings should ensure that the child/young person does not feel intimidated. 

The committee should respect the views of the child/young person and give them equal consideration to those of adults. 

If the child/young person is the complainant, the committee should ask in advance if any support is needed to help them present their complaint. Where the child/young person’s parent is the complainant, the committee should give the parent the opportunity to say which parts of the meeting, if any, the child/young person needs to attend.

However, the parent should be advised that agreement might not always be possible if the parent wishes the child/young person to attend a part of the meeting that the committee considers is not in the child/young person’s best interests. 


  • the welfare of the child/young person is paramount.

A positive, purposeful and enthusiastic atmosphere

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