Stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions guidelines – Part 2
About the guidelines
- are designed to assist school boards, principals, and teachers with their legal options and duties and meet their obligations under relevant statutory requirements, and
- are for use in all state and state-integrated schools.
Independent schools may also wish to adopt this guide.
Please note: in the documents below the Education and Training Act 2020 has replaced the Education Act 1989.
The guidelines comprise:
These guidelines replace those published by the Ministry of Education in June 2004 and the 2007 Supplement. The paragraphs have been numbered for ease of use and reference. Cross-references to Part 1 – Legal options and duties are given where relevant.
12. Managing complaints
While schools are focused on providing the best possible service to students, there may be occasions when practice does not meet certain standards or expectations, and a parent or others wish to complain. Managing complaints appropriately, using fair and consistent practice, is an important part of school operations. The following may be useful:
Obligations when managing complaints
Complaints can come from students, staff, parents and even members of the public. They might be about students, staff, the principal, the board, your school policies or events at or involving the school.
Complainants can question the operations of your school and can request information to be provided. If a child or parent requests additional information about a stand-down or suspension decision, the board must carefully consider it. You are obliged to provide information under the Official Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 2020. Under both Acts, a full answer must be provided to the requester within a specified timeframe.
The Education and Training Act 2020 and the rules that regulate stand-downs and suspensions also specify timeframes and procedural requirements that must be followed. When these are not followed, the board puts itself at legal risk. It is good practice to ensure you meet these timeframes.
Complaints will vary from minor to major, and may escalate rapidly from one to the other if they are not managed in a manner that is both timely and appropriate.
Note: It is good practice to ensure that your school (both governance and management functions) has a clearly articulated complaints procedure, and that you follow it. This will make it easier to manage a complaint, should one arrive.
It is important that parents, students, teachers, school staff and board members know how to access the school complaints procedure easily.
Ask these questions of your school
Is there a copy of this procedure in enrolment information or on our school website? Is it available at our school office? Are all our school staff aware of our complaints procedure?
Complaints to the principal
The principal is responsible for the day-to-day management of your school and student discipline. Parents may ask to meet with the principal to make a complaint about a staff member, another student, an incident that occurred or a school event. It is good practice for the principal to treat all complaints seriously and make time to meet with parents, if possible.
It is a good idea to have somebody else, other than the principal, attend a complaint meeting. They can help take notes of the key points discussed and record a course of action and/or any agreed outcomes. A copy of these notes can be given to the parent at the end of the meeting. A copy should also be retained by your school as they may be needed at a later time. [Refer Section 3: 11. Documenting processes]
It may be appropriate to take some time to consider the nature of the complaint and speak with other relevant parties. [Refer Section 1: 3. Involving other people when managing student behaviour] It is good practice to let parents know when you will get back to them. Remember that ‘a few days’ is preferable to ‘a week’ in terms of timeliness.
All complaints should be investigated and the principal will decide the next steps. [Refer Section 2: 6. Investigation and interviewing] This may include recommendations for future action. It is good practice to document this decision and send a copy to parents. [Refer Section 3: 11. Documenting processes]
Complaints to the board of trustees
The board is the employer of school staff and responsible for the school operating within the law. Boards of trustees are committed to making school the best learning environment possible for students. Parents have the right to have their concerns listened to and addressed.
Note: Complaints to the board of trustees should be in writing and addressed to the chairperson of the board. A discussion with the board chairperson or a board member is NOT a formal complaint.
If a principal has managed a complaint and parents are not happy with the outcome, parents are entitled to complain to the board of trustees.
It may be appropriate for the board to obtain legal or industrial advice to inform their response to some complaints. The New Zealand Schools Trustees Association helpdesk is the first point of call for schools to obtain free advice in these situations.
In some situations, your school may decide to engage a lawyer, as appropriate.
It may also be appropriate to consider appointing an independent person to investigate the complaint.
Complaints about school processes
Parents may complain to a school or the Ministry of Education about the school’s complaints process or process for managing stand-downs and suspensions.
Schools are advised to seek advice and support from the New Zealand Schools Trustees Association in these situations.
When parents or students are unhappy with a stand-down or suspension decision, they may wish to make a complaint. Complaints about boards of trustees can be directed to the Office of the Ombudsmen.
Ministry of Education role
In some instances, parents will complain to the Ministry of Education about an incident involving their child that occurred at school.
Note: It is common practice for the Ministry to direct all complaints back to the school in the first instance. The Ministry upholds the school’s ability to self-govern and follow their own policies and processes for managing complaints.
- This section of the New Zealand Education Council(external link) website is about conduct and competence of teachers. It includes information about making a complaint and how complaints are dealt with, and a set of frequently asked questions to assist teachers and employers/professional leaders
- The New Zealand Schools Trustees Association (NZSTA)(external link) represents and provides services to boards of trustees across New Zealand. NZSTA provides governance support services, industrial relations and advice free of charge. Boards of trustees can access the NZSTA National Office Trusteeship helpdesk for all matters relating to trusteeship. The Helpdesk is staffed five days a week during office hours, 8:00am to 5:00pm. 0800 STA HELP (0800 782 4357), fax (04) 473 4706, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- The New Zealand Legislation website has the online version of the Official Information Act 1982 No 156(external link) (as at 01 November 2008) and the Privacy Act 1993 No 28(external link) (as at 24 January 2009)
- Information about the Human Rights Act can be sourced from The Human Rights Commission(external link), Auckland (09) 309 0874, Wellington (04) 473 9981, Christchurch (03) 379 2015 or information line 0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS (0800 496 877)
- Information about the High Court(external link) is available on their website
- Information about the Ombudsmen(external link), who are independent Officers of Parliament who investigate complaints against central and local government agencies, is available on their website
- Clear and open communication between students, parents and schools ensures that matters are addressed promptly. Parents or students with concerns may seek advice from a lawyer, Youth Law (09 309 6967), the Parents Legal Information Line (0800 499 488) or the Office of the Ombudsmen 0800 802 602
Examples of situations where parents have complained to the school
A student was stood-down following an incident at school. When the principal telephoned the parent, the parent was not happy with the decision to stand-down her son and wanted to meet with the principal to discuss the situation. The principal met with the parent and discussed his reasons for standing-down her son. The principal’s personal assistant took notes of what was discussed at the meeting.
The parent was upset by the principal’s decision because she thought the school could have dealt with her son differently. She explained that there had been a death in the family and that her son was very upset and that he could have acted badly as a result. The principal listened to the parent and decided that, under these circumstances, he would shorten the stand-down for the student. He told the parent that her son would have a warning this time and that he may face a stand-down if the behaviour recurred. All actions were recorded and the parent was given a photocopy of the notes taken at the meeting. The principal then wrote a letter to the parent as a formal record that he had shortened the stand-down. Copies of all documentation were saved on the student’s file.
In this situation the principal met with the parent to hear what she had to say. This helped prevent the situation escalating to a formal written complaint.
An angry parent rang a school office demanding to speak with the principal. The parent wanted to make a formal complaint about an incident during which his son was beaten up on his way home from school. He wanted the principal to expel the student who had beaten up his son.
The principal was away for the next three days and had left the deputy principal with delegation to manage complaints in her absence. The office administrator calmly informed the angry caller that the principal was away and that she would put his call through to the deputy principal for response. The parent had become more enraged hearing that the principal was away and refused to speak with the deputy principal. The parent said he was coming down to the school to talk to the boy who attacked his son and hung up the telephone.
The deputy principal telephoned the parent back after a few moments and calmly spoke to him about his concerns. The parent calmed down and agreed to come into meet with the deputy principal within one hour.
In this instance the school proactively contacted the parent and managed to calm him down to a level where he agreed to meet with the deputy principal to progress his complaint.