This week has been Anti-Bullying Week 2022, so it seems appropriate to take a quick look at a recent decision of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). On the one hand, it is a complaint about a complaint about a complaint – and those that can end up being very focused on the procedural side of things. On the other hand, it does raise some issues which I do hear a lot from parents who are involved with schools when their child is being bullied.
Read more: Listen Up!
Child A was being bullied at school. The parents in question reported to the school (the local mainstream secondary school) “a number of incidents” of bullying, but felt that the school had failed to adequately investigate the reported incidents. They complained to the local authority.
However, the parents felt that the Council failed to deal with this complaint properly, and made a further complaint to the SPSO. Ultimately (although it is not clear at what point this happened), the parents made a placing request for Child A to attend another school. It seems that the Council refused the placing request, and that an appeal was lodged. There is no record of the outcome of the appeal.
The SPSO did find that the school took steps to investigate the incidents in line with “the relevant guidance” (I assume this means their own anti-bullying policy and/or the national approach to anti-bullying) – and that they had been “ helpful and supportive”.
However, they also found that in some instances the school failed to speak to the pupils being accused of bullying, failed to keep records of the steps taken by them, and failed to provide parents with follow-up contact, in line with the guidance.
The Ombudsman recommended that the Council issue an apology to the child and their parents, in accordance with the SPSO guidance on apology. Sidenote – this is genuinely excellent guidance and I highly recommend it. Recommendations were also made on how complaints about bullying should be dealt with in the future.
It is not possible to draw general principles from a single SPSO decision, reported in summary only. However, in looking at this case, it is clear that the SPSO regarded the following as being of some importance:
- where appropriate, pupils accused of bullying should be spoken to;
- a record of the school’s response to allegations of bullying should be kept; and
- parents who have made a complaint of bullying should be provided with follow-up contact from the school.
SPSO decision 201909305, East Dunbartonshire Council
Second sidenote – Govan Law Center’s “Bullying at School” document remains a useful guide to the law in this area and practical suggestions on using the law to progress complaints re: bullying.