When things go wrong at school

publication date: Apr 24, 2007

It happens in most families - at some stage during a child’s school life he’s going to come home with a complaint that he was treated unfairly, or you’ll receive a phone call or letter about your child’s unacceptable behaviour.

Many parents, remembering their own school days, feel at a disadvantage when dealing with teachers but this needn’t be so.  Most problems can be sorted out quickly and easily but some complaints, if not handled properly, may escalate so that parent and school suddenly find themselves in an ugly confrontation.

Check your facts
It’s understandable to want to jump to your child’s defence but make sure of your facts. Calmly ask your child all the details, remembering that small children often get confused and may misinterpret things and older children may give a version of events that puts them in a better light. If possible, check out the story with classmates, other mums or members of staff.

If your child was in the wrong, get him to apologise to the teacher and anyone else concerned as soon as possible.

Dealing with problems
  •  If you take your child to school, have a brief word with the teacher, if not send in a note outlining the situation.
  • When bad behaviour seems to be a regular occurrence, suggest a meeting with the class teacher/year tutor so you can work out a strategy for good behaviour.
  • If you are unhappy with the way the teacher deals with the matter, arrange an appointment with the head teacher. If you feel nervous about this, think through all the points you wish to raise and write them down. Take your notes with you and refer to them. Listen carefully to what is being said. If necessary, say you need to think about the points raised and arrange another appointment with a view to resolving the issue.
  • If you are still unhappy consult the school’s complaints procedure policy (included in their brochure or may be obtained separately from their office) and make sure the school has followed its own guidelines.
  • Then write to the chair of governors, outlining your grievance. Always keep a copy of everything you write, and as a matter of courtesy you might like to send a copy to the head.
  •  If the governors do not then resolve the situation to your satisfaction, you should write to your local authority chief education officer.

  • Get to know the staff by attending parents’ evenings, joining the PTA, helping out in class or on a school trip if you have the time.
  • Nip small problems in the bud so that they don’t get out of hand by voicing any concerns to the school as they arise.
  • Tell the school if there are any major changes at home - a death in the family, a sick pet, divorce, the arrival of a new sibling   - so teachers are aware your child may be going through a difficult patch.
  •  If your child can’t wear uniform one day, or hasn’t completed a homework task for a good reason, explain to the school by note or verbally at the beginning of the day, don’t wait for him to be told off before you say anything.
  •  Never confront a member of staff when you are upset and angry - give yourself time to cool down.
  • Be assertive but not aggressive.
  • Never argue with a teacher in front of your child or other pupils.
  • Don’t panic about a phase of bad behaviour - most children have their moments and teachers are professionals who see all sorts of behaviour and can put your child’s “sin” in context.