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Handling complaints

December 05, 2007

Hello again,

Lots of teachers I speak to resent the way their schools handle student complaints. Very often teachers are made scapegoats because...

...school management does not have a proper procedure for handling student complaints.

In the first place it seems to me essential that schools should have an overt complaints procedure that students are fully aware of. But perhaps before such a procedure can be devised it is necessary to classify the types of complaints that are likely to be made.

The first category to consider covers financial problems. Let us say a school demands a deposit or a fee payment before the student arrives. Any number of factors could cause the student to withdraw: illness, job requirements, visa problems, etc. Schools need a very clear policy on how they will deal with refunds. Once a student has paid a school money a contract has been entered into and it is essential that the agreement is clearly set out and that the students’ rights are honoured. If in doubt, get expert help from lawyers and accountants.

The next category concerns disputes over the promised service: class sizes, number of lessons, times of lessons, facilities offered etc. If you state that class sizes are a maximum of 15, then any student in a class of 16 has a right to complain and demand some kind of recompense. If you feel that on some occasions you will have to break your own stated conditions, then set out clearly how the student will be recompensed.

If you offer an accommodation service, then make sure that you state clearly how you will deal student problems: the food is poor, the family is not friendly. Frankly anything can crop up, not necessarily because your service is faulty, but because people just don’t always mix well. Have a clearly stated means of dealing with complaints so that students can be satisfied and host families mollified. Avoid laying blame on either party: one man’s meat….

If we move on to what happens in the classroom, then we have an array of potential disputes: the nationality mix is wrong (multi-national schools); the level of the class is wrong; the teaching is not appropriate. These issues are more subjective and less amenable to a clear procedure. But if you monitor students you should be able to pick up potential issues. Give them a questionnaire after day one to find out if they happy with their level and the nationality mix. Ensure that teachers have systems for eliciting feedback so that problems are picked up before they become complaints. Make it clear to students that any complaint about teaching must pass through a filter: first talk to the teacher, if that doesn’t work speak to the DOS. Ensure that the DOS has explained to students what will happen if a complaint is received about teaching.

What I am trying to establish is that the school is a team and there is collective responsibility for its smooth running. If something goes wrong, look at the circumstances and see how it can be resolved, as a team. If the student has a legitimate complaint, have a procedure that will allow you to deal with it fairly. In reality, a good school, will wish to offer the best possible service and will do its best to ensure that both students and staff are treated fairly.

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  1. Gary Says:

    It all sounds good in theory but in reality it NEVER works that way.

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