Code of Practice for dealing with Complaints made by Parent/s, Guardian/s of a Student or by a Student (who has reached the age of eighteen) currently enrolled in a school/centre, against a Staff Member employed by Donegal Vocational Education Committee (VEC)
Nationally agreed 1 March 2011
Formally Adopted by Donegal VEC on 21st March 2011
The Code of Practice for dealing with complaints made by Parent/s, Guardian/s of a Student or by a Student (who has reached the age of eighteen) currently enrolled in a school/centre, against a Staff Member employed by a Vocational Education Committee (VEC) was developed following discussions at national level between the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA) on behalf of member Vocational Education Committees (VECs) and trade unions representing VEC staff, to foster an environment where communication between parents, staff and school/college/centre/office management is open and positive.
Procedures are necessary to ensure fair treatment for all. It is necessary that procedures be agreed, known and observed in the interest of good relations in the educational, school and workplace environment.
This Code of Practice was formally agreed at national level between the parties concerned on 1st March 2011 with a view to addressing the concerns of all parties to the education process so that schools, colleges and centres for education function as efficiently and effectively as possible and with due respect to the entire school/college/centre/office community. This responsibility is exercised on a day-to-day basis by Principals of schools/colleges, Directors/Managers of centres for education and appropriate line manager/s within head office under the care of Donegal VEC.
It is the policy of Donegal VEC to provide a fair, consistent and equitable mechanism for processing complaints by parents/guardians or students (who have reached the age of 18 years) against a VEC staff member and to do so in a manner that affords all concerned full rights in accordance with natural justice. This procedure outlines the procedures which should be followed by all – VEC, staff, parents/guardians and/or students over 18 years of age and/or their representatives, in the event of complaints being made against staff.
Investigations of complaints will be handled with sensitivity and due respect to the rights of both the complainant and the staff member concerned. Throughout this procedure, all communication between the staff member, parent/guardian and or student (who has reached the age of 18 years) must take place in an atmosphere that is calm, dignified and in a climate that respects the viewpoint of either party to the Complaints Procedure. This procedure is intended to resolve complaints outside of recourse to legal process.
It is understood that all complaints will be investigated with minimum delay and in accordance with principles of natural justice. Every effort will be made to adhere to the time limits prescribed in the procedure. The time limits laid down under the Formal Procedure may be extended by mutual agreement of the parties concerned, or by the person(s) appointed to manage/investigate the complaint, provided the grounds for extending the time limits are reasonable.
- Complaints considered by the Principal/Director/appropriate line manager to be frivolous or vexatious
- Anonymous complaints
- Complaints which are appropriate to another Code of Practice/procedure.
- Complaints which do not relate to the work of a staff member in a VEC school/college/centre/office
- Complaints in respect of child abuse which are dealt with under separate guidelines and procedures issued by the Department of Education and Skills
- Complaints which are the subject of legal proceedings
- Complaints in relation to teacher/principal professional competence which should be processed under the Department of Education and Skills circular letter 59/2009.
Where a complaint arises, the parties concerned (complainant, staff member/s and management representative/s) are encouraged to strive to understand the other party’s position and should seek, as far as possible, a mutually acceptable solution through informal means.
Without prejudice to his/her right to invoke immediately the Formal Procedure, a parent/guardian /student (aged eighteen years or over) who believes s/he has been treated unjustly or unfairly is encouraged to raise his/her complaint, as a matter of first instance, through an informal approach with the staff member.
Mediation, if appropriate, and subject to the agreement of the parties to the grievance, is not excluded by way of a mechanism to resolving complaints at informal or formal stages.
Any information disclosed in the course of mediation must remain within the mediation process. It must not be disclosed and cannot be used in furthering a complaint through this procedure or any other process and must remain confidential to the mediation process. In the event that mediation is unsuccessful, the Complaints Procedure can be re-invoked at the same stage and without prejudice to the parties having engaged in a mediated process.
Complaints, whether verbal or in writing, should be processed informally through stages 1 and 2 of the procedure and a copy of any written complaint be given to the staff member concerned.
The complainant will be informed if the complaint is amenable to processing within the terms of this procedure and if not, the reasons for this decision.
A complaint(s) may be withdrawn at any stage of the procedure. All complaints received will be entered in the complainant’s file. Where the complaint is withdrawn, a note to this effect will be entered in the file.
Parties to a complaint do not require legal representation. A staff member may be accompanied by a trade union representative or friend at any meeting convened under this procedure. A parent/guardian/adult student may be accompanied by a friend or someone unconnected to the complaint.
Stage 1 – Self-initiated attempt at resolving the complaint
- A parent/guardian/student (aged eighteen years or over) who wishes to make a complaint should, unless there is good and sufficient reason in the first instance, make an appointment to discuss the matter with the staff member concerned with a view to resolving the complaint. The staff member has the right to refer the complaint to the Principal and in this context, to respond to the Principal on the complaint. In such circumstances the complaint moves directly to stage 2.1. In an administration office context, if the matter cannot be resolved, the parent/guardian/adult student should seek an appointment with the Section/Department head. A copy of the Procedure should be made available to the parent/guardian/adult student.
- If at this point the matter cannot be resolved, the matter should proceed to stage 2 ideally within a maximum of ten working
Stage 2 – Facilitation meetings with the Principal/Head of Centre with a view to resolving the complaint
- A parent/guardian/student (aged eighteen years or over) who is unable to resolve the complaint at stage 1 may seek an appointment to report and discuss the matter with the Principal/Head of the Centre with a view to resolving the complaint. The Principal/Head of Centre will arrange such a meeting. In some instances and where deemed appropriate by the Principal/Head of Centre, it may be necessary for the parties concerned (subject to mutual agreement of both parties to the complaint) to meet with the Principal/Head of Centre with a view to resolving the complaint. The Deputy may be nominated by the Principal to facilitate this stage of the process.
In either circumstance, such a meeting will take place within a maximum of a further ten working days.
Any documentation relating to the complaint should be provided to the parties no later than three days prior to the meeting/s with the Principal/Head of Centre.
The purpose of such meeting/s is to seek a resolution of the complaint to the satisfaction of the parties concerned.
- Following the facilitation process, the Principal/Head of Centre will communicate the outcome verbally to both parties. In the event of the matter being resolved, the parties will be requested to sign a statement to the effect that the matter is concluded to the agreement of the parties concerned.
- If after stages 2.1 and 2.2 the complaint is still unresolved, the parent/guardian/adult student should be advised that they may raise the matter formally (in writing) with the VEC (under Stage 3).
- In the case of a complaint against a Principal/Head of Centre, the parent/guardian/adult student should discuss his/her complaint with the Principal/Head of Centre. Meeting/s in relation to complaints against a Principal/Head of Centre may be facilitated by the Deputy Principal/Deputy Head of Centre. If the parent/guardian/adult student is unable to resolve the complaint with the Principal/Head of Centre, the complaint may be processed under Stages 3 and 4 of this procedure.
It is envisaged that the overwhelming majority of complaints will be resolved to the satisfaction of the parties to the complaint without recourse to progressive stages in the Procedure.
Stage 3 – Formal investigation of the complaint by an independent team
- If the complaint is not resolved at stages 1 or 2, then the parent/guardian/adult/student should lodge the complaint in writing, with the VEC within ten working days of the date of issue of the findings from stage 2.
- The VEC should formally acknowledge receipt of the complaint. A copy of the complaint should be supplied to the other party/parties to the complaint advising that the VEC is convening an investigation team and that further details will be advised concerning the date, time, venue etc. of the investigation meeting/s. An investigation team nominated by the employer comprising two investigators drawn from the agreed panel (see appendix 1), in addition to an impartial recording secretary (drawn from the vocational education sector), will be convened by the employer for the purposes of conducting an official investigation of the complaint.
- The investigation team shall:
- Supply the staff member with a copy of the written complaint and a copy of all other evidence submitted by the parent/guardian/adult student including any relevant material concerned to the facilitation process undertaken by the Principal/Head of Centre at Stage 2.2.
- Supply the parent/guardian/adult student with copy of all written documentation concerning the complaint supplied by the staff member and any relevant material concerned to the facilitation process undertaken by the Principal/Head of Centre at Stage 2.2.
- Supply both parties with a copy of the terms of reference under which the investigation will be conducted (appendix 2) including a reasonable “no later than” timeframe within which the parties to the complaint will be furnished with the official investigation report.
- Be responsible for keeping all parties apprised of developments appropriate to the ongoing investigation.
- Conduct the investigation in accordance with the specified terms of reference.
- Following the conclusion of the investigation process, the investigation team will provide a written report for Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or a person nominated by the CEO. The investigation report shall advise under each element of the complaint as to whether the complaint is upheld or not upheld.
- The CEO or nominated person is responsible for furnishing a copy of the report to the parties concerned within five working days. Covering correspondence will advise a right of appeal to the Chief Executive Officer of the VEC or a person nominated by the CEO, and include the terms of reference of the appeal procedure (appendix 3).
- Appeals (and all supporting documentation) must be marked “private and confidential for the attention of the Chief Executive Officer (or the person so advised as the CEO’s nominee)” and submitted by registered post within a maximum of 10 working days of the issue date of the investigation report by the CEO or his nominee to the parties to the complaint.
- Following the expiration of the appeal period, the CEO of the VEC will take appropriate action based on the findings of the report and such action may include initiating the appropriate disciplinary procedure.
Stage 4 – Appeal of the investigation report finding/s to the CEO of the VEC
- In the event that an appeal is lodged with the Chief Executive Officer of the VEC or a person nominated by the CEO, the terms of reference for the appeal stage outlined in appendix 3 including the appropriate timeframes should be followed. The appeal hearing shall be convened within fifteen working days of the receipt of the appeal letter and supporting documentation.
- The CEO or his/her nominee (acting in the capacity of Appeals Officer) shall convey his/her decision, in writing, to the appellant(s) within five working days of the decision being taken.
- The decision of the CEO under the Complaints Procedure shall be final.
- Any disciplinary process initiated by the VEC will be undertaken under the terms of the appropriate disciplinary procedure for staff concerned.
Protection and Support
Donegal ETB is committed to providing a healthy working and learning environment in its schools, colleges, centres and offices. Students, parents, guardians and staff will be protected from discrimination or victimisation for filing a complaint or assisting in an investigation.
Retaliation against a student on whose behalf a complaint has been lodged is considered a disciplinary offence. Equally, a malicious complaint made against a staff member will be treated as misconduct under the school/college/centre’s disciplinary procedures.
Any documentation in respect of the complaint at stages 1 and/or 2, including a covering statement of the outcome reached at each stage, will be treated as confidential and retained by the school/centre in a dedicated complaints’ file established for such purpose.
Any documentation in respect of the complaint at stages 3 and/or 4, including a covering statement of the outcome reached at each stage, will be treated as confidential and retained by the ETB in a dedicated complaints’ file established for such purpose.
Where a complaint has been rejected or deemed unfounded, all documentation relating to complaint should be removed from any personnel file of the staff member concerned. It will be retained in the dedicated complaints’ procedure file in accordance with VEC Data Protection/Retention policy.
This Complaints Procedure will arise for review by the parties to this agreement at national level no later than two years from the official implementation date.
VEC Adoption Date
The Code of Practice for dealing with complaints made by Parent/s, Guardian/s of a Student or by a Student (who has reached the age of eighteen) currently enrolled in a school/centre, against a Staff Member employed by a Vocational Education Committee (VEC) has been formally adopted by Donegal VEC on 21st March 2011.
Chief Executive Officer
 “Working days” are understood in a school context to be counted as days on which the school is open for student instruction
 All practical arrangements for the conduct of the investigation (at stage 3) will be made through the HR Department of the VEC
 Department of Education and Skills circular 59/2009 in respect of Procedures for the Suspension and Dismissal of Teachers and Principals