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Making a complaint about your child’s education

Photo: Get support on making complaints about your child's education

If you have a concern or complaint about your child’s education it’s important to know who to speak to about it.

Who you complain to and how complaints are handled depends on what you’re complaining about. For example, complaints about special educational needs (SEN) are handled differently from complaints about how the school is run.

Tips on making a complaint

  • If possible always raise any concerns you have informally before making a formal complaint.
  • All state-funded schools must have a complaints policy, which should be available on their website. Ask for the school’s policy so you know what to expect and how your complaint should be handled.
  • Other public bodies, such as the local authority, should also have information about how you can make a complaint. This information should be available on their website.
  • Make it clear that you’re making a formal complaint and ask them to treat your complaint in line with their complaints policy.
  • Think about what you want your complaint to achieve. Do you want an apology? For the other person to admit they made a mistake? To make sure bad practice doesn’t happen again? Make sure you explain what you want to happen when you make the complaint.
  • Keep a record of phone calls and copies of any letters, emails, meeting notes or reports to do with the complaint – these may be useful later if you need to take your complaint further.
  • Read up on your rights in education. Sometimes, just showing that you’re aware of your rights can make it more likely that your complaint will be taken seriously.
  • Try to stay calm and polite. It will be easier for other people to dismiss your concerns if they feel that you’re being aggressive or unreasonable.
How do I complain about my child’s school?

Below are the main steps involved in making a complaint about your child’s school.

1. If possible, raise your concern or complaint informally with the people involved.
For example, if you’re worried about your child’s progress, talk to their class teacher.

2. If the person you’ve spoken to can’t help, or you aren’t satisfied with their response, you could make a formal complaint.

3. Before making a formal complaint (and throughout the complaints process) read up on policies and guidance that could help you:

  • All state-funded schools must have a complaints policy, which should be available of their website. The policy should explain how to make a complaint, and how your complaint should be handled, including timescales for responding to you.
  • Ask if the school has specific policies relating to the issue you’re complaining about. For example, an equal opportunities policy or anti-bullying policy.
  • The Department for Education has published a list of all statutory guidance that schools must follow to comply with the law.
  • The Department also produces a range of advice documents for schools and local authorities. Visit www.gov.uk/education and search for the topic you’re interested in. 

4. If you aren’t happy with the school’s response to your complaint, the next step is to raise it with the school governing body. The complaints policy or any letter you receive in response to your complaint should explain how to do this, and when you can expect a response.

5. Your complaint will usually be heard by the governing body of the school. If the school is an academy, the complaint will be heard by a panel of three people who are independent of the school.

6. If you’ve taken the school’s complaints policy as far as possible, you can take the issue further by contacting the Department for Education.

How do I complain about my child’s special educational needs (SEN) support?

This is a different process to complaining about Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.

If your child has SEN and your complaint is about the support that your child is receiving to help them with their SEN, then you should first raise any concerns you have with the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at the school.

You can also contact your child’s Teacher of the Deaf – they have an important role to play in advising the school on how to support deaf children and may be able to intervene directly.

If you aren’t happy with the school’s response to your complaint, the next step is to raise it with the school governing body. See step 4 above.

You can also contact the LA because LAs have a responsibility to make sure that schools meet the SEN of your child.

If the school is an academy you should contact the Education Funding Agency instead of the LA. Academies are independent of the LA so the Department for Education has asked the Education Funding Agency to make sure that academies follow the law in relation to children with SEN.

For more information on making a complaint about SEN support, in a school or an academy, go to www.gov.uk/complain-about-school/sen-complaints.

Disagreement resolution

LAs must provide a disagreement resolution service for parents and young people with SEN. The service should be independent of the LA. You can use a disagreement resolution service even if your child doesn’t have an EHC plan.

The service can hear complaints between parents/young people and the school (including academies) and LA. Details of how to use the disagreement resolution service should be set out in the Local Offer for your LA.

If you use a disagreement resolution service, anything discussed in these meetings must be treated in confidence.

You can use the disagreement resolution service at any time. This can be as well as, or instead of, using the formal complaints process.

How do I complain about my child’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan?

If your complaint is about the content of an EHC plan, or if the LA has refused to carry out a statutory assessment of your child’s special educational needs (SEN), you can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.

You don’t need to make a formal complaint before you appeal to the Tribunal, but strict time limits apply. An appeal usually has to be made within two months of the date of the LA’s decision which you are disputing.

Before you can appeal to the Tribunal, you must contact the mediation service the LA gave details of in their decision letter. You don’t have to go ahead with the mediation, but you do need to contact the service even if it’s just to say you don’t want mediation.

You can find more information about mediation and how to appeal to the Tribunal in our factsheet How to appeal to the Tribunal against a decision about your child’s special educational needs.

How do I complain about disability discrimination?

Under the Equality Act schools, other education providers and local authorities (LAs) must make reasonable adjustments to make sure that deaf children and young people (with or without SEN) aren’t discriminated against or at a substantial disadvantage. In other words, this means that the school, or any other education body:

  •  can’t treat your child unfairly for any reason related to their deafness
  • must make reasonable adjustments to make sure your child can overcome any disadvantages created by their deafness
  • must provide equipment and services (g. specialist equipment such as radio aids) unless this would be seen as unreasonable adjustment.

If you’re concerned that your child has been discriminated against, you can take a complaint to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. You must do this within six months of when the discrimination first started. 

You can do this as well as, or instead of, making a complaint to the school. 

For more information on your child’s rights under the Equality Act go to The Equality Act and your child's education

This page should help you to work with nurseries, schools, further and higher education settings and LAs to make sure your child gets the support they need. It also tells you what to do if you believe that discrimination is taking place or has taken place, or if you feel that someone is failing to make reasonable adjustments to support your child. 

Are there any other ways I can complain?

Ofsted

If your complaint is about how a school as a whole is being run, you can make a complaint to Ofsted. Examples of complaints Ofsted can investigate include:

  • the school isn’t providing a good enough education
  • the pupils aren’t achieving as much as they should, or their different needs aren’t being met
  • the school isn’t well-managed, or is wasting money
  • the pupils’ personal development and wellbeing are being neglected.

Ofsted won’t accept complaints about individual children, and will only get involved if you’ve already made a formal complaint to the school. You should get a response from Ofsted within 30 days.

Education Funding Agency

If your child’s school is an academy and you’re concerned that they aren’t handling your complaint properly, you can contact the Education Funding Agency.

The Local Government Ombudsman

The Local Government Ombudsman considers complaints against LAs, but only if you’ve made a formal complaint to the LA first. It will look at whether the LA has followed the law properly and fairly or whether there is any evidence of ‘maladministration’.

It can’t look at cases where the LA has followed the law but you disagree with its final decision.

It also can’t look at cases which can be taken to a Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal such as a refusal by the LA to carry out a statutory assessment of your child’s needs or a disagreement over the contents of your child’s statement or EHC plan.

Examples of cases that the Ombudsman might consider include:

  • the LA hasn’t provided a disagreement resolution service
  • the LA is failing to deliver support specified in your child’s statement or EHC plan
  • the LA is taking too long to let you know if they will carry out an assessment
  • the LA doesn’t respond to any formal complaints that you make.

You should make your complaint to the Ombudsman within one year of the LA’s decision.

MPs and local councillors

You can write to your MP or local councillor to ask them to support your complaint and/or write to the school and LA or (if your child’s school is an academy) the Education Funding Agency on your behalf. Your MP and councillors will usually hold surgeries where you can meet them in person to discuss your complaint.

Legal action and judicial reviews

A judicial review is a form of legal action and a way of challenging a public service’s decision-making process in the High Court. Public services include LAs, schools, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal and the Department for Education.

Examples of when you may be able to apply for a judicial review include if you think a public service has:

  • acted illegally 
  • not followed proper procedures
  • acted irrationally.

You must apply for a judicial review as soon as possible. Normally you must make an application within three months of the incident you are complaining about. Judicial review is not a quick process and there are a number of procedural rules which need to be followed – it could take several months at least for your case to come to court. Judicial reviews can also be very costly.

If you would like to apply for a judicial review or take any kind of legal action, you should seek advice from a solicitor. It’s important to make sure that the solicitor is experienced in education law and, if a judicial review is being considered, in public law too.

Solicitors can help in different ways, for example, they will be able to give you advice and can also help you to take a case to court. If your LA is slow in responding to you, or you think they haven’t co-operated, a letter from a solicitor can help take things forward.

Solicitors charge for their services. However, you may be able to get funding through legal aid. If you are eligible for legal aid, you may be able to get advice from Civil Legal Advice.

You can find a solicitor in a number of ways. The Law Society gives details of solicitors and their specialist areas.

When you contact a solicitor:

  • ask what experience they have in special educational needs and education law
  • find out what their fees are
  • ask if you qualify for legal aid
  • if you aren’t clear on an issue, double check and ask questions
  • ask the solicitor to confirm advice and information in writing.