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 Western Australia, 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 Western Australia 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.  

Navigate this page

Your right to an education

Every Australian child has a right to education. This means that your school 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 make sure they have processes in place to make sure school is a safe and caring environment for all students. This includes making sure a school gives culturally responsive Aboriginal education, and support for students with disabilities and additional learning support needs.

Which school rules apply to 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 WA must have certain policies, including policies on student behaviour, student wellbeing, bullying and harassment, and complaints.

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 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 behaviour policies when deciding how to respond. These policies must be clear, based on procedural fairness and non-discrimination, and given to all students.

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 
  • any decision should be supported by evidence.

Physical punishment of students is never allowed.

My 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.9 This should be easy to understand, fair, culturally safe, and it should include information about how you can seek a review if you are unhappy with the outcome of your complaint.

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 procedure 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 

Private schools generally 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 Catholic Education Western Australia. 

If your school’s complaints policy doesn’t have information about this option, we recommend you ask the school principal 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 WA Department of Education 

If following the school’s complaint’s procedure has been unsuccessful, you can make a complaint to the Non-government School Regulation team at the Department of Education. 

The Department can only investigate certain complaints about private schools, for example complaints about a private school breaching its obligations under the Registration Standards for Non-Government Schools.

It is important to know that the Department can’t intervene in a complaint that a school is dealing with or override a school’s decision. Also, if you do make a complaint, the Department might not be able to tell you what action they have decided to take against a school. 

You can read more about the process for making a complaint here and access the Report a concern form here. 

4. Other complaints 

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

  • The Australian Human Rights Commission and the WA Equal Opportunity Commission can deal with some complaints about discrimination by private schools. For more information, check out our page on discrimination. 
  • The Office of the Australian Information Commission can deal with complaints about mishandling of personal information by most private schools. 

If you want advice about making a complaint about a private school, you can contact us here. 

Got a question you can't get answered?

If you have a problem or a question, you can send it to us today and we can provide you with free advice, information and referrals to help solve your problem. Just click on the button below.

Get help now

Select Your State or Territory

The law is different in each state and territory. Please select your state or territory to view legal information that applies to you.