Pupils or parents who have an unresolved complaint of maladministration against a school are now able to take concerns to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO).
From April 1, the Ombudsman has been given the power to investigate and report on complaints about maladministration in all publicly funded schools in Northern Ireland.
This means that any pupil or parent who believes that they have been treated unfairly as a result of the actions or decision of a school’s Board of Governors can able to bring their complaint to the Ombudsman.
This can span a wide range of issues such as complaints about the way in which an incidence of bullying was handled, how the school rules were interpreted by a teacher or a delay incurred in relation to a Special Educational Needs Assessment for a child.
Commenting on the expansion of her investigation powers to include complaints against schools, the Ombudsman Marie Anderson said:“This is an important new role for my Office and brings approximately 1200 publicly funded schools under my jurisdiction.
“In the run up to assuming these powers, my Office has been working closely with the Education Authority and over the next few months, we will be taking part in a number events organised to ensure that head teachers, school principals and boards of governors understand my role and the key elements of best practice in complaints handling.
“It is important to stress that my office is an independent Office of last resort. It is only once a complainant has exhausted a school’s internal complaints procedure without satisfaction that they can bring their complaint to me. I cannot investigate every complaint that comes to my office. My staff consider the nature of the complaint, the impact on the child or young person and the importance of the issue for the school’s provision or service and care to its pupils.
“I am also keen aim to help schools improve their handling of complaints and to improve decision making and administrative practices by recommending change in my investigation reports.”
Welcoming the Ombudsman’s new powers to investigate schools, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Koulla Yiasouma said: “I look forward to working with the Ombudsman on the extension of her powers to oversee maladministration in schools. As Commissioner for Children and Young People I will continue to assist pupils and parents to raise concerns with schools.”