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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 can depend on what you’re complaining about. For example, complaints about additional support needs (ASN) 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 local authorities (LAs) must have a complaints policy on how complaints about schools and education in its area should be handled. This should be available on their website. Before making a complaint, get a copy of the policy so you know what to expect and how your complaint should be handled.
  • Make it clear that you’re making a formal complaint and ask the LA to treat your complaint in line with the 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, ask to talk to their class teacher.

2. If the person you’ve spoken to can’t help, or you aren’t satisfied with their response, there may be someone else you can speak to e.g. the headteacher or an education officer.

3. If the matter has still not been resolved, you could consider making a formal complaint to the LA. Before making a formal complaint, read up on policies and guidance that could help you:

  • All LAs must have a policy about how complaints about schools in its area should be handled. This should be available on 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 or LA has specific policies relating to the issue you’re complaining about. For example, an equal opportunities policy or anti-bullying policy.

4. If you’ve taken the LA complaints policy as far as possible, you can take the issue further by contacting the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

Education Scotland, the inspection agency, doesn’t hear complaints about schools; it will normally refer any complaints it receives to the school itself. 

How are complaints handled if my child has additional support needs (ASN)?

This is a different process to complaining about coordinated support plans (CSPs).

If your child has ASN and your complaint is about the support that your child is receiving, then you should first raise any concerns you have with 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, you can then raise it with the LA – see step 3 above.

Mediation

Every LA has to make independent mediation available to help with the resolution of disputes in relation to a child or young person’s ASN. Mediation can be useful in helping to resolve disputes and to restore or maintain a good working relationship with the school.

If you think mediation would be appropriate in your case, then you can contact the LA to ask for a referral for mediation.

Dispute resolution

For particular types of dispute, including where an LA has failed to provide additional support required by a child or young person, the matter can be referred to a process of independent adjudication.

Enquire has a factsheet, Resolving disputes using independent adjudication, which gives more information. 

How do I complain about my child’s coordinated support plan (CSP)?

If your complaint is about the content of a CSP, or if the LA has refused to open a CSP, or failed to provide support specified in the plan, you can take your complaint to the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland.

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 decision which you are disputing.

You can find more information about how to appeal to the Tribunal in our factsheet Making a Reference to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal (Scotland).

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 ASN) 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 (e.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 make a claim to the Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland. 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?

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

The Scottish Public Services 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’.

The Ombudsman 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 an Additional Support Needs Tribunal such as a refusal by the LA of a placing request for a special school or a disagreement over the contents of your child’s CSP.

Examples of cases that the Ombudsman might consider include:

  • the LA isn’t acting in line with its own anti-bullying policy
  • 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 or action that you made a complaint about.

Scottish Ministers

If you have exhausted all other options, you can make a Section 70 complaint to the Scottish Ministers that the LA has failed in one of their statutory educational duties. You need to be clear that you are making a complaint under Section 70 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, and to specify which specific statutory duties the LA is in breach of.

The Scottish Government has a more information and a form you can use to make a Section 70 complaint.

MSPs and local councillors

You can write to your Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) or local councillor to ask them to support your complaint and/or write to the school and LA on your behalf. Your MSP 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 Court of Session. Public services include LAs, Education Scotland and the Scottish Government.

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 necessarily a quick process and there are a number of procedural rules which need to be followed. 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.

Solicitors charge for their services. However, you may be able to get funding through legal aid.

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

When you contact a solicitor:

  • ask what experience they have in 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.