Good practice framework

Factors for providers to consider when handling complaints and academic appeals

Maintaining confidentiality

116. Complaints and academic appeals should be handled with an appropriate level of confidentiality, with information released only to those who need it for the purposes of investigating or responding to the complaint or academic appeal. No third party should be told any more about the investigation than is strictly necessary in order to obtain the information required from them.

117. Where a student has made a complaint about another student or a member of staff, the student bringing the complaint should be told the outcome. However, it may not be appropriate to share specific details affecting the other student or staff member, particularly where disciplinary action is being taken. It is important that this is explained to the student at the earliest opportunity in order to manage expectations.

 

Managing behaviour

118. It is good practice for providers to have in place policies and procedures setting out:

  • the expectation that students, their representatives and staff members should act reasonably and fairly towards each other, and treat the processes themselves with respect; and
  • that the provider has a responsibility to protect its staff against unacceptable behaviour.

These policies and procedures will set out the type of behaviour which would be considered unacceptable and the circumstances in which a student’s access to staff or procedures might be restricted. They will include a requirement to inform the student of a decision to restrict access, and the procedures for reviewing such a decision.

 

Frivolous or vexatious complaints and academic appeals

119. It is good practice for providers to develop their own policies for dealing with frivolous or vexatious complaints or academic appeals. Examples of such complaints and academic appeals include:

  • complaints or academic appeals which are obsessive, harassing, or repetitive
  • insistence on pursuing non-meritorious complaints or academic appeals and/or unrealistic, unreasonable outcomes
  • insistence on pursuing what may be meritorious complaints or academic appeals in an unreasonable manner
  • complaints or academic appeals which are designed to cause disruption or annoyance
  • demands for redress which lack any serious purpose or value.

120. The provider may terminate consideration of a complaint or academic appeal if it considers it to be frivolous or vexatious. In such cases, the provider should write to the student explaining why it is terminating consideration of the matter. The student should be provided with details of how to appeal against the decision, for example by taking the matter to the vice-chancellor/principal or a member of the governing body, and any associated timescale.

 

Supporting the student

121. Students should be directed towards the support services available, for example the students’ union, which can provide helpful independent support and advice to those who wish to pursue a complaint or academic appeal. It is good practice to provide students with access to support and advice and, where it is not practicable to do so internally, providers should consider making arrangements for students to access support services at neighbouring institutions, partner providers or other local community services.

122. It is good practice to ensure that procedures are available to all students in accessible formats. Providers should consider on a case by case basis whether to make reasonable adjustments to procedures to take account of the individual needs of students. It is good practice to keep a record of any adjustments which have been made.

123. Students who have mental health issues should be advised of specific support services available to them at the provider, for example counselling services and, where appropriate, services external to the provider. If a student appears unable to engage effectively with the complaints or academic appeals procedures, the provider may wish to suggest that the student appoints a representative. It may be appropriate to suspend the consideration of a complaint or academic appeal until the student has accessed appropriate support.

124. Complaints and academic appeals should be covered by procedures and guidance in English or Welsh, as appropriate. It is reasonable to expect students whose first language is not English (or Welsh) to be able to follow the complaints or academic appeals processes, as these are the languages used for tuition, but providers may need to be sympathetic to individuals who need a degree of language support.

Straightforward language

125. Providers should write their regulations and procedures clearly and in straightforward language. Footnotes should be kept to a minimum and acronyms should be defined.

126. To avoid possible confusion, providers should not use job titles such as ‘ombudsman’, ‘ombuds office’ or ‘adjudicator’ to describe the roles of those handling complaints and academic appeals.

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