If your child has special educational needs (SEN) or a disability and you are unhappy with the service or the support your child is getting, you should speak with someone as soon as possible.
When things go wrong there are ways to move forward. You can:
- raise your concerns
- have a disagreement resolution meeting
- use mediation
- make a complaint
We can help you to understand the different complaint routes which are available to you:
- Complaints about schools
- Head teacher and governor complaints
- Appeals process for school complaints
- EHC Plan provision complaints
- Disagreement Resolution
- Complaints to Ofsted
- Local authority services complaints
- Healthcare complaints
- Judicial Review
- Support when making a complaint
Complaints about schools
Most parents have positive relationships with schools, but on occasions, things may go wrong.
All complaints should be taken seriously and schools are expected to have procedures in place for dealing with them. Parents can ask the school for a copy of their complaints procedure so they know exactly how things will be handled.
You may wish to raise concerns relating to a more general area of dissatisfaction, for example your child’s special educational needs not being met. The SEND Code of Practice sets out guidance for schools on identifying, assessing and making provision for children’s special educational needs.
The school will look into the issues raised and respond once the relevant facts have been established.
If you have concerns about a child with special educational needs and you are not happy with the response you have received from the school, you can contact the nominated special educational needs governor who should be able to help resolve the dispute.
- it's important that you raise your concerns as soon as they emerge; by taking positive steps early on, it is more likely that things will be resolved
- it's important that you co-operate as much as you can with your child’s school in any discussion about your child
- you may find it helpful to write down your worries before a meeting, if you want to, you can take a friend or relative with you
- we can help you to express your views and offer you support
Contacting your school
It's much better if things can be sorted out within school even if this might feel a bit awkward in the beginning.
Speak to the school secretary, and ask for the named person who deals with school complaints. Ask to make an appointment to meet with that person or write a letter.
This may be the child’s class teacher, form tutor, the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or the head teacher.
Gathering the facts
Think carefully about the nature of your complaint. If there has been a specific incident, you need to gather the facts and try to separate what may have happened from what actually happened. You should make written notes of the details.
In particular you need to be clear about:
- what you are complaining about
- when and where the incident happened
- who else was involved
- whether anyone saw it happen
- who you have spoken to already about the incident
- what you want to happen as a result of your complaint.
School complaints duration
Complaints should be handled quickly and most issues should be resolved in a few days. Most investigations by the school should be completed within 20 school days, but if a complaint moves through all the above stages, it may take several months to resolve.
See further information about school complaints:
- School complaints (City of York Council).
- Complain about a school (GOV.UK).
- Making a complaint about a nursery, school or college (IPSEA).
- Complain about a further education college or apprenticeship (GOV.UK)
- SEND complaints: guide for young people aged 16 to 25 in education (GOV.UK)
- Making a complaint or challenging a decision (IPSEA)
Head teacher and governor complaints
If the complaint is about the head teacher, then you should contact the Chair of Governors of the school. The school will give you the name of the Chair of Governors and how they may be contacted. The Chair or a nominated Complaints Governor will investigate your concerns and respond directly to you.
If the complaint is about the conduct of a governor, this should be referred to the Chair of Governors in the first instance. The Chair will investigate your concerns.
If the complaint relates to the Chair of Governors, then the nominated Complaints Governor will investigate this and school will give you their contact details.
Complaints about the Governing Body as a whole should be directed to the Chair of Governors and to the local authority.
Head teacher and governor complaints process
You should be listened to so that your complaint is understood. Complaints need to be investigated and the head teacher or Chair of Governors will need some time in which to do this. A reasonable amount of time for most complaints is 20 school days, however this may vary from school to school depending on an individual school’s complaint policy. You should be told if it will take longer than this.
If the school agrees that the complaint is justified, you should be told about the action that will be taken.
In some cases it is possible that disciplinary action may be taken against a member of staff. This is a decision for the Governing Body, not the local authority. There is a separate procedure for schools to follow in dealing with staff disciplinary matters. If disciplinary action is taken you will not be told the details of this due to employment rules on confidentiality.
If the school does not support the complaint, you should be told the reasons for this decision and may ask for these in writing.
Appeals process for school complaints
If you’re not satisfied with the way in which the school has dealt with your complaint, you have a right to appeal which you should be told about in the school's complaint response.
If the head teacher and the nominated Complaints Governor have been unable to resolve the complaint to your satisfaction, a committee of the Governing Body who has had no involvement with the complaint so far should deal with the appeal.
If you are still dissatisfied with the committee outcome, you can contact the local authority.
For academies and free schools if you're unhappy with the outcome of your complaint, you may be able to complain to the Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA). See details of how the ESFA handles complaints about academies (GOV.UK).
EHC Plan provision complaints
If you're unhappy with the provision your child is receiving through their Education Health and Care Plan (EHC Plan), or the provision in their plan is not being provided, you can contact SEN Services to raise your concerns by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you're unsatisfied with their response you could make a comment or complaint to City of York Council online.
IPSEA have provided a model letter for complaining when the provision in an EHC Plan is not being made.
Disagreement resolution aims to sort out disagreements between parents or young people and organisations that are responsible for making or providing support for a child or young person.
Local authorities have a duty to provide an independent disagreement resolution service for parents and carers, schools and local authorities where there is a disagreement about provision for a child’s special educational needs. Details can be found on pages 244 to 251 of the SEND Code of Practice, which says:
Decisions about provision for children and young people with SEN or disabilities should be made jointly by providers, parents, and children and young people themselves, taking a person-centred approach, with the views of children, young people and parents taken into account when those decisions are made.
You do not have to choose between making a complaint, or using disagreement resolution and mediation.
A parent or young person can ask for Disagreement Resolution at any time during the SEND process, even when you have already lodged a tribunal appeal. Access to disagreement resolution covers all children and young people with SEND - whether or not they have an EHC Plan.
However, the other party or parties involved in the disagreement have to agree to take part before it can take place. Otherwise Dispute Resolution works in exactly the same way as Mediation.
Dispute Resolution can be used for disputes about:
- how local authorities or education providers (early years, schools, colleges) carry out their education, health and care duties for children or young people with SEND
- the SEND provision made by education providers
- health and social care provision during all the stages of the EHC plan process
See further information about the KIDS SEND Mediation and Disagreement Resolution Service.
Complaints to Ofsted
Parents have a legal right to raise complaints with Ofsted.
Ofsted is the body which inspects a range of public services including schools. Schools are inspected at least once every 3 years. Parents have a legal right to complain to Ofsted on the work of maintained schools, academies, city technology colleges, maintained nursery schools and non-maintained special schools.
Parents can make complaints to Ofsted regarding issues such as:
- quality of education and standards achieved
- inadequate provision for pupils with SEN
- neglect of pupils’ personal development and wellbeing
- the quality of leadership and management, for example whether the school spends its money well
It's important to remember that you can only make complaints to Ofsted about issues that affect the whole school and not about an individual child.
Ofsted can call an immediate inspection of a school at short notice, if it feels your complaint is very serious.
See further information about complaining to Ofsted (IPSEA).
Local authority services complaints
The local authority has its own complaints procedure and you can ask for a copy of this that includes a complaints form.
See further information about the role of the Local Government Ombudsman in special educational complaints.
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman
If you're not satisfied with the local authority's response, or if the authority does not answer within a reasonable amount of time, then in certain circumstances you can complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
See further information about complaining to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (IPSEA).
See information about making a complaint about NHS or social care services on the Healthwatch website.
Use the Find Your Local Healthwatch tool to find your nearest Healthwatch, to get advice and support about the health and social care services in your local area.
See further information about Healthwatch - health and social care consumer champions.
You can also seek support from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), who offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters.
You can ask a court (within 3 months) to hold a Judicial Review to consider whether the action taken by the local authority was made in a lawful, fair and reasonable manner.
As this is a formal legal route it is strongly advisable to seek legal representation if you're considering this option.
Examples of issues which might be subject to Judicial Review might include failure to:
- provide a full-time education
- provide transport
- issue an EHC Plan
- secure the provision in an EHC Plan
- comply with SEND Tribunal decisions
- carry out an annual review
See further information about the Judicial Review process (IPSEA).
Support when making a complaint
Contact us if you want help to understand the different complaint procedures, or advice on which to use.
If you're not happy with the outcome of making a complaint, or feel that it has not been dealt with properly, we can give you information on what to do next.
There are other agencies that might be able to support parents, for example the Independent Parental Special Education Advice (IPSEA). You can contact IPSEA on telephone: 0800 0184016.