Find out how to complain about a school in one of the devolved nations of the UK.
This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
This article is about England, for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please see complaints about schools in the devolved administrations.
School complaints procedure
All school governing bodies should have a procedure to deal with complaints about all aspects of the school and any community facilities or services that the school provides. The procedure must be publicised, local authority maintained schools must publish this online. Academy trusts must provide it on request and are expected to publish it online.
The school’s complaints procedure will explain what is covered by their complaints policy, e.g. bullying or bad behaviour.
The first step is always to contact the school, and the guidance states “most problems can be solved this way”. If this does not work, the formal complaints procedure should be followed.
A complaint about a state school may be made to the Secretary of State for Education if the complainant believes that the governing body is acting unreasonably or is failing to carry out its statutory duties. Complaints about academies are handled by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) on behalf of the Secretary of State.
Before taking a complaint to the Secretary of State for Education or ESFA, a constituent must have followed all the stages of the school’s internal complaints procedure first, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Although the Department of Education cannot deal with individual complaints about private schools it can arrange an emergency inspection if it fails to meet any of the regulatory standards.
Complaining to Ofsted
Ofsted cannot respond to or resolve individual complaints but it is possible to tell Ofsted about a problem with a school. They can use the information provided to decide when to inspect and what areas to focus the inspection on.
Ofsted could take a range of actions from no further action to an immediate inspection of the school, see Complaints to Ofsted about schools (PDF 230KB).
School admission appeals
The School Admissions Appeal Code details statutory guidance about the appeal process.
There are special rules on appeals about admission to some infant (reception, year 1 and year 2 classes) which are outlined in Section 4 of the Code. ‘Infant class size’ appeals can only be upheld in very limited circumstances.
Section 5 of the Code describes possible further avenues for appeals and complaints where parents are unhappy with the outcome of an appeal.
The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)
A constituent can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman if they believe that the
“… a place at a school was refused because of a mistake by the admissions authority, or if… [the] appeal was handled incorrectly….or if the appeal hearing has not been heard in the required time.”
The Ombudsman is not another level of appeal and cannot question decisions if they were taken properly and fairly by the admissions authority or the appeal panel. The LGO website provides information about making complaints in relation to school admissions.
The Local Government Ombudsman can only consider complaints about admission to maintained schools and possibly academies that have converted from maintained schools during the admission process. Complaints about academies and free schools have to be made to the ESFA.
The Schools Adjudicator
The Schools Adjudicator decides on objections to published admission arrangements of all state-funded schools and variations of determined admission arrangements for maintained schools. Further Information is available on the Office of the Schools Adjudicator website.
Coronavirus and school admissions appeals
The government has amended the school admission appeal regulations to give admission authorities, local authorities and appeal panels some flexibility in handling appeals during pandemic.
The temporary regulations come into force on 24 April 2020 and apply:
to any appeals lodged between that date and 30 September 2021 and to appeals that have already been lodged before 24 April 2020 but have not yet been decided.
The changes mainly allow greater flexibility over the timetable in which appeals must be considered.
A child can be excluded from school if they misbehave inside or outside of school.
If a child is excluded from school the parents or carers can challenge the exclusion, see School discipline and exclusions – challenging exclusion.
For exclusions lasting longer than 5 days the local council must arrange alternative full-time education. If it is not arranged within 5 days or if the parents or child are unhappy with the alternative education provision they can complain to the school for fixed term exclusions (suspensions) or to the local council for permanent exclusions.
If the parents or child are unhappy with the outcome they can complain to the Department for Education.
Special Educational Needs (SEN)
Complaints about Special Educational Needs provision follow a different procedure, see Complain about a school or childminder – Special Educational Needs.
If a constituent believes the school has discriminated against their child because of their disability they can appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability tribunal.
If the tribunal will not hear the complaint, they can complain to the school using their normal complaints procedure. If that is not successful they can complain to the Department for Education.
The following organisations can also provide help and advice:
- Independent Parental Special Education Advice
- Childrens’s Legal Centre
- Equality Advisory Service
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.
There are over 270,000 pupils in English schools with Education, Health and Care Plans or special educational needs statements, but far from all will be attending school.
On 26 February from 9.30-11.00 am there will be a debate in Westminster Hall on school exclusions. The debate has been initiated by Sarah Jones MP.