How the Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution can help parents and carers

This office exists to support you in resolving complex, ongoing issues between you and your child’s government school.

Who we are

The Independent Office for School Dispute Resolution is an independent body. We help to resolve disagreements between parents and government schools in Victoria.

Our leaders, the chair and 2 deputy chairs, are experts in resolving disagreements. The Minister for Education chooses and appoints them.

What is alternative dispute resolution (ADR)?

ADR usually solves problems without going to court, but many different ADR processes exist. In this case, it means finding a solution without judging who was right or wrong in the past. Instead, ADR looks for ways to improve the present situation and prevent future problems. ADR is usually quicker, cheaper, and less stressful than going to court. It helps everyone work together to find a solution that helps the student involved and improves the relationship between the family and the school.

If needed, we can also engage people with specific expertise within the education system or from outside support agencies. This expertise could include:

  • child development
  • cultural liaison
  • disability
  • family disputes
  • mental health
  • bullying prevention programs
  • workplace supports.

Types of disputes we can help with

We can help with disputes where:

  • your child goes to a Victorian Government school
  • the complaint is about:
    • access and inclusion
    • reasonable adjustments for disability
    • managing medical issues
    • dealing with bullying
    • decisions that are not required by law for the school to make and follow
  • the problem is complicated and has long-term effects, but everyone is willing to try to find a solution that works
  • the department’s normal process for solving problems with the school was tried but didn’t work.

Types of disputes we can’t help with

We can’t help with decisions or actions about:

  • school councils
  • department program or policy decisions (e.g. eligibility for funding under the Program for Students with Disability)
  • disciplinary action taken against school staff by the department or other bodies like the Victorian Institute of Teaching
  • actions taken by the department regarding school attendance
  • decisions made by a school principal regarding a parent or carer's access to school premises
  • matters that by law or regulation must be dealt with by another specific body or process
  • school zoning decisions.

We also can’t help with issues that are already being dealt with through other processes like the Victorian Ombudsman, VCAT, VEOHRC, or a court.

How complaints are referred to us

If your problem meets the requirements, the department's Complaints and Improvement Unit (CIU) will send it to us as part of their usual complaint process.

We can only help if both you and the school agree to work with us and find a solution together.

We don't usually help parents who contact us directly unless the situation is exceptional, and the parents have tried first to use the department’s processes.

If the matter has not been raised with the department first, we will help you connect with them. You will still be able to come back to us if you and the department are not able to resolve the issue.

How to make a complaint

If you have a complaint, you should follow these 3 steps:

  • Start by speaking to your child's teacher or year level coordinator to try to resolve the issue. If you need to make a formal complaint, speak to the principal or assistant principal.
  • If the school cannot resolve your concern, contact the Department’s local regional office. A Community Liaison Officer (CLO) will work with you, the school, and any necessary experts to help resolve the complaint.
  • If the issue is still unresolved, you can contact the department’s Complaints and Improvement Unit (CIU). A member of the CIU will contact you to discuss possible measures. This may include referring the matter to the Office for School Dispute Resolution if an ADR approach can be used to resolve the issue.

What happens when we decide to look into a complaint

When we take on your case, one of our team members will work with you, the school principal, and the department officials to handle your matter. The team member in charge could be the chair, a deputy chair, or registrar depending on the situation.

In some cases, 2 or 3 team members may work together as a group to resolve a matter.

Our team will use the most suitable ADR processes to help you and the school find a solution that works for everyone.

How we work to resolve issues

When we take on a case, we will contact you, the school principal, and the relevant regional office to collect information and perspectives. Because we are independent of the department, we can respect the privacy and confidentiality of all involved. Because we do not make decisions about outcomes, we do not gather evidence or proof, or judge actions taken in the past. People who are involved in our processes maintain the authority to decide the outcomes for themselves.

We may arrange meetings or facilitate separate discussions, depending on the situation. We support everyone involved to effectively take part in the process. If it’s helpful, we can assist everyone to set up agreed plans and actions. We believe that most people will find a solution, when given the opportunity and support to do so.

Possible outcomes

Our main goal is to help parents, carers, students, and principals come to an agreement that makes sure the student can be engaged in their education, and that the family and school will be able to work together to support the student.

If the dispute cannot be resolved through the office, we will review the information and may make recommendations for resolution. Depending on the situation, these recommendations may be to the regional director or deputy secretary, or to a broader range of participants. Neither the parent nor the department are obliged to accept or act on recommendations. We cannot order an outcome.

At any point, parties can choose to stop the process. We may also decide to stop the process if we think it is no longer useful.

Involving other organisations

Using the office does not prevent parties from contacting other organisations such as the Victorian Ombudsman, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, or the courts.

If another organisation becomes involved, we will usually stop working on the parts of the dispute that are being handled by the other organisation.

Improving the system

We also help the department to get better at handling complaints and we train people who deal with complaints to improve their skills. When we find solutions to complicated problems, those solutions can help make the entire system better, so we may also make recommendations to prevent the same issues from happening again.