education complaints

Complaining about your child's education

Our teachers, teaching assistants and education specialists most often do a great job. However, sometimes, you may not be happy with the level or type of support your child receives in school or college. This page tells you how to complain about your child's education.

The law and your rights
The laws relating to special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) changed in 2014 when the Children and Families Act became law. Alongside the Act there are regulations and the SEND Code of Practice which set out guidance on how to identify and assess special educational needs and disabilities. All local authorities, schools, further education colleges and early education providers must take note of the Code. You can read or download a copy of the SEND Code of Practice from the Department for Education (DfE).

Another important law to be aware of is the Equality Act 2010, which protects people from unfair discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on what’s known as protected characteristics, such as age, sexual orientation or disability. You can read more about disability discrimination and the Equality Act here, in particular how it applies to schools.

You have rights at all stages when decisions are being made about your child’s education, and these rights must be explained to you. For example, these include the right to be told when your child has been identified as having SEND and to see written reports about your child. In each section of this website we refer to some of the relevant laws and your rights in different situations.

Making a complaint
If you have a complaint, it’s always best to try to sort out problems at a local level with the teacher or professional involved. Your child’s class teacher or school head will probably be the first point of contact. All schools have to have an SEND policy and an accessibility policy which includes a complaints procedure. You should be able to find this on their website, and they must provide a copy if you ask. If you need to go further, you should approach the school governors.

If that doesn’t work, the next step will depend on what type of school your child attends. Most schools are funded by the local authority (LA), in which case you can write to the Director of Children’s Services at the council, or follow the council’s official complaints procedure:

If your child is at an academy or free school you can take your complaint to the Education and Skills Funding Agency, unless it is about an EHC plan (or Statement), in which case you should contact your child’s casework officer. If this does not resolve your concern regarding your child’s EHC plan or Statement, follow the steps above for complaining to your LA.

Finally, if you are still unhappy with the responses you have received, you can try contacting your Member of Parliament (MP) or the Local Government Ombudsman.

In some cases you may have a right to appeal to a tribunal or other body. You will usually be expected to exhaust your other options before going down this route, but you can appeal sooner if you have a good reason. Be aware there are usually time limits, for example you must lodge an EHC plan appeal within two months. There is more information about appeals below.

There are specialist national organisations, such as IPSEA, that publish useful information sheets about ‘taking matters further’. They can also advise you on the various ways of trying to resolve disagreements or registering a complaint. Visit

When to appeal
In some circumstances you have a right to appeal, and in others you only have the right to complain.

When you have a right to appeal, this means you have the right to ask for a decision to be looked at again by a body that has the power to overrule the original decision. For example, you have the right to appeal to the SEND first tier tribunal about parts of your child’s EHC plan. You can also appeal at a local level about school admissions and exclusions.

You can complain about decisions, but you can also complain about actions an organization or person has taken, policies you disagree with, and so on. When you complain, you may be asking for a decision to be reconsidered, or you may be asking for an apology, or a change in how things will be done from now on. It is useful to think about what it is you want to happen when you complain.

A complaint will usually go initially to the person or organization responsible for the action or policy you are unhappy with. They may decide to review the decision, but they do not have to, or they may hear your complaint and respond with an apology or explanation instead. You can complain to higher bodies as well, but they may not have the power to overrule the original decision.

This does not mean complaining is pointless, however, as it may still lead to a decision being reconsidered or a policy being changed, or the response may help you understand the reasons behind a decision or action. Sometimes an apology can be surprisingly powerful in helping you and your child move on from an upsetting or hurtful incident. You may also help bring about changes to how things are done in the future, as all complaints must be logged and are usually reviewed when planning for the future.

When you escalate a complaint, the person or organization you complain to make not be able to overrule the decision or issue legally-binding commands, but they may still wield considerable influence.

Appealing EHC plan decisions
We explain here in more detail about the rights of appeal in EHC needs assessments & plans. These appeals go to the SEND First Tier Tribunal, also known as SENDIST. You can choose to try independent mediation on any part of the plan you are unhappy with, but you only have a right to appeal the education sections. The local authority must obey decisions made by the tribunal about these sections. The tribunal may also make recommendations about the health and social care provision sections. Health and social care services are not legally required to follow these recommendations but they would need to provide a strong argument to go against the recommendation of the tribunal.


It was an awful hassle to go to appeal, but it was important that the integrated activities he was having should continue. We just had the energy to do it I suppose.
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