School & college complaints

8 mins read

This advice applies in England only. Read information for families in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

On this page we explain what you need to do if you want to complain about any aspect of your child’s education.

In this article

Complaining to the school or college

Your child is not getting the right help in school for their special educational needs (SEN)

See our page on extra support in school if your child does not have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan and you think they need more help for their SEN,

If your child has an EHC plan, your local authority is legally responsible for making sure your child gets the educational help set out in part F of their EHC plan. Discuss your concerns with the school or college first if you think that your child is not getting this help, . If this does not resolve the problem, you can make a complaint to the local authority.

You think your child’s school has discriminated against them because of their disability

See our advice on disability discrimination in school.

If your child’s school has formally excluded them, either permanently or for a fixed term (temporarily)

See our advice on exclusions.

If your child is being bullied

See our advice and resources on bullying in school.

Other school complaints

Many complaints can be resolved informally. The first step is usually to speak to your child’s teacher or tutor who has the day- to-day responsibility for your child. Many concerns can be resolved this way. School staff will be busy and may not have time to speak to you during the school day, so it may be best to ask for an appointment.

Take along a note of the things you want to discuss. After the meeting make a note of what you and the staff member have agreed to do. Agree a time and date for another meeting to check if the problem has been resolved.

If you are still not happy, or if your problem is with someone who teaches your child, ask for an appointment with another member of staff, such as your child’s head of year or headteacher, to discuss your concerns.

Making a formal complaint in writing

All schools must have a complaints procedure and should publish this on their website. If you cannot find this, ask for a copy. The complaints procedure should set out who to send your complaint to, how many stages there are (usually two) and how long it will take.  

Tips for making a written complaint:

Our example school complaint letter [.doc] may help.

Most school complaints will first be dealt with by a senior member of staff, such as the headteacher or deputy. If you are not happy after this stage, or if your complaint is about those staff members, you can complain to a panel of school governors, (or trustees if the school is an academy). You may want to ask for a face-to-face meeting as well as putting your complaint in writing.

School complaints: taking it further

If you are not happy with the outcome after following the steps above, you may be able to take the matter further.

The Department of Education will consider complaints about state-funded schools or colleges after you have gone through the school or college complaints procedure. They cannot look at complaints about private schools unless the school is not meeting certain standards.

Ofsted will consider complaints about how the school is run. They will not look into complaints about individual pupils.

See the Department of Education website for more information.

Complaining about a further education college or apprenticeship

This information relates to England.

Follow the organisation’s own complaints procedure first. If you are not happy with the outcome, see the Department of Education website for details of the next steps.

Complaining to the local authority

SEN provision in an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan

If your child has an EHC plan, the local authority is legally responsible for making sure the special educational provision (extra help) set out in part F is provided. Even if the help comes through the health service (for example speech and language therapy) or the school delivers it, for example 1-1 support from a teaching assistant, the local authority is directly responsible for it.

You can complain to the local authority if your child is not getting the support specified in part F of their EHC plan (and discussing your concerns with the school or college first has not resolved the situation).

If you are not happy with what is in your child’s EHC plan, you may be able to appeal to the SEND tribunal.

Annual reviews

The local authority must formally review the EHC plan at least once a year. Even if your child’s school or college arranges a meeting, the local authority is legally responsible for ensuring the right procedure and timescales are followed. They must not leave the whole annual review to the school or college.

You can complain to the local authority if:

You can appeal to the SEND tribunal about the local authority’s decision following an annual review.

See our webpages for more information about annual reviews.

How do I complain to the local authority?

All local authorities will have a complaints procedure, which should set out the timescales for considering your complaint. You should be able to find this on the local authority website.

It is a good idea to copy your complaint to the local authority Monitoring Officer and the Director of Education, as well as any local authority officer you have been dealing with.

Other remedies

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigates complaints about local authorities. They can look at how the council has dealt with a child’s special educational needs. They can also consider complaints about social care. You should follow the local authority complaints procedure first.

You cannot complain to the Ombudsman about something which you can appeal to the SEND Tribunal about (see below). Visit the Ombudsman’s website for more on what it can and cannot deal with, and what to expect from a complaint.

Disagreement resolution

This service provides an informal way of resolving disagreements about special educational needs. Disagreement resolution is similar to mediation but goes wider. It can help in disagreements between parents or young people and schools, colleges, local authorities and health providers whether or not there is an EHC plan in place.

You should be able to find details of your local disagreement resolution service on your local authority’s Local Offer website. The disagreement resolution service is free to use and independent of the local authority.

Health complaints

If you are not happy with a health service your child has received, including services provided through the EHC plan.

Judicial review

In some situations it may so be possible to bring a judicial review against the local authority or other public body. Judicial review is the way that courts supervise how public bodies, including local authorities, exercise their powers. The court does not decide whether a particular decision was right or wrong or change the decision. Instead, they look at the way a decision was made. They may ask the public body to make the decision again if they find that they didn’t follow the law and procedures.

Judicial review is only appropriate if there is no other way to resolve the situation. You would need to seek advice from a solicitor. For more information see our webpage on seeking legal advice.

Information for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

This information covers state-funded schools in England. There are different ways to complain about schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland:

Related information