Complaints about private schools

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here. If you go to a public school in NSW, you can check out our other pages here.

Generally, private schools can set their own rules and can discipline students for not following them (as long as the rules are not unreasonable or harmful to students). This is because when you enrol at a private school, you and your parents agree to follow these rules. If you break the school rules, you can be disciplined under the school’s policies.

However, there are some rules that apply to all schools in NSW and Australia, and some rights that all Australian children have, no matter which school they go to. If your school breaks any of these rules or treats you unfairly, you may be able to make a complaint.

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Your right to an education

Every child in NSW has a right to high-quality education. Schools cannot limit your access to education (for example, by suspending you from school or making it significantly harder for you to engage in your learning) without very good reasons and a clear process.

Schools also cannot discriminate against you for reasons such as a disability, your sex, your age or your race.

Private schools must also make sure they have processes in place to make sure school is a safe and supportive environment for all students.

Which rules apply in private schools?

Every private school will have its own set of school rules. These rules say what students can and can’t do, and how the school can or must respond to particular situations.

Usually these rules will be on your school’s website, in your student diary or in the enrolment pack you were given when you started school.

Private schools in NSW must have policies on child protection, anti-bullying, discipline, managing complaints, and enrolment. Schools must make these policies publicly available.

If you are having trouble finding your school rules, you can ask your student office or a teacher.

I think a school rule is unfair – what can I do?

If you think a private school rule is unfair, you can try talking with a teacher you trust at school about why the school rule exists.

You can also ask a parent or guardian to help you arrange a meeting with the school to talk about this rule. You can try explaining to the school why you think the rule is unfair, and give some examples of how it impacts you or others in an unfair way. You can also suggest some ways that the rule can be changed.

If you think a school rule discriminates against you for a particular reason (for example, because of a disability or because of your race), then you might be able to make a complaint if the school doesn’t agree to change it.

For more information about discrimination at school, check out our webpage here.

What can the school do if I get in trouble?

If you get in trouble at a private school, the school should follow its policies when deciding how to respond. These policies must be based on procedural fairness, and must be publicly available.

Procedural fairness is especially important if a school is thinking of suspending, expelling or excluding you. It means that:

  • you should be told why you are in trouble, what process the school will follow, and be given a chance to say what happened
  • people who are investigating or making a decision should be neutral.

If a school is thinking of a serious outcome, like a long suspension or an expulsion, they should also give you a chance to have a support person with you in an interview, and keep written records.

Physical punishment of students is never allowed.

My private school has treated me unfairly – what can I do?

1. Follow the school’s complaints procedure

All private schools are required to have a complaints procedure, and to make this publicly available.

If you think you have been treated unfairly, or you disagree with how your school has treated you, it’s a good idea to start by following the school’s complaints procedure. Sometimes this will have several steps – for example, you can start by making a complaint to the principal, and if you aren’t happy with the outcome, you can make a complaint to the chair of the school’s board.

2. Make a complaint to the school’s governing body

Most private schools have a governing body that oversees their operation. In some cases, if you can’t resolve an issue with your school, you can make a complaint to the school’s governing body. For example:

  • if the school has a board, you might be able to make a complaint to the chair of that board;
  • if the school is a Catholic school, you might be able to make a complaint to the Catholic Education Office or the relevant Diocese.

If your school’s complaints policy doesn’t have information about this option, we recommend you ask the school principal or a teacher you trust about making a complaint to the school’s governing body. It can be a good idea to talk with a parent or guardian about your plans, and see if they will support you.

3. Make a complaint to the NSW Education Standards Authority

If you aren’t happy with the private school’s response, you might also be able to make a complaint to the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA).

NESA cannot investigate all complaints about private schools. However, NESA can investigate complaints about private schools not following the requirements in the Manual.

You can read more about the process for raising a concern with NESA here and access the Complaint Handling Report Form here.

4. Other complaints

There are some other government organisations that can deal with complaints about private schools. For example:

If we haven’t answered your question, or if you want more legal help, you can contact us here.

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