Parental complaints and teacher wellbeing in Scottish Schools during Covid-19

The purpose of this research is to explore how complaints processes are being used by parents to report current issues within Scottish education and whether this has affected teacher mental health and well being.

This is of particular interest given that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a noticeable, negative rhetoric about teachers circulating in the UK media and via social media platforms. Anecdotally, teachers are reporting an increase in complaints as well as increasingly antagonistic complaints.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant proportion of teaching staff reported feeling undervalued by society (OECD, 2018) and over half of Scottish teachers reported mental ill health due to workplace stress (White, 2020). As the pandemic continues, poor mental health continues to affect UK teachers (Kim & Asbury, 2020) and addressing this remains an ongoing priority of the Scottish Government (ScotGov, 2020).

This study will build on empirical research which reported how complaints in the Health Sector (Bourne et al., 2015, Bruers et al. 2015, Cunningham 2004 Jain and Ogden 1999). and other public services (Gill et al., 2017) can result in significant negative effects on staff wellbeing, defensive practices, avoidance and a reduction in trust.

Our research will specifically explore how teachers who have been complained about can be supported and how complaints can be used to encourage wider organisational learning.

The research will be undertaken using a mixed-methods sequential design of an online survey followed by telephone or online interviews with teachers.

This research intends to benefit teachers and their employers by highlighting the issue, providing meaningful data around the issue, whilst also proposing a therapeutic model for complaints within education, which can be used by local authorities to support schools to best deal with parental complaints. It will build on research previously undertaken by QMU with the University of Glasgow on the impact of being complained about on other public service employees which highlights the need for a more therapeutic approach to complaint handling which supports all the actors in the complaint handling process including employees (Gill et al. 2019). It will identify the extent to which complaint processes are acting anti-therapeutically and make recommendations on how to address this. This research will be disseminated via an academic paper, as well as a report distributed to the GTCS, Education Scotland, teaching unions, and local authorities.

The funding is primarily being used to fund a Research Assistant (0.4 FTE) for six months who will help us with the survey and the interviews. The intention is for the Research Assistant to be drawn from the existing QMU body in either school, particularly those whose current work has been impacted by COVID19.

Contact Jane Williams and Dr Kat Lord

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Jane Williams Staff Profile

Dr Kat Lord Staff Profile 

Division:  Queen Margaret Business School and PSE