School complaints procedure

What you can do if you are unhappy about something that has happened at your child's school.

Something has happened at school, and you want to complain – what can you do?

All schools want their children to do well and be happy. We recognise, however, that there are times when things go wrong, when concerns continue and disagreements can arise. These can usually be resolved by speaking to the right person and most concerns can be sorted out without too much trouble.

Whatever the issue, even if you are seriously concerned about your child’s future at the school, it is always important to try to find an answer and keep in mind that disruption to your child’s education is likely to be very damaging.

If you are unhappy about something at school, take time to consider what you think has happened. Remember there is often more than one view about an incident or situation. Think about what you hope will happen as a result of your complaint and how to take it forward. It might help to talk this through with a friend or relative.

When you approach the school to make a complaint, remember that although you want to change a situation, you want it to end on a positive note with no bad feelings. In order to do this you should try to follow the procedures carefully and not put yourself or anyone else into a corner. The vast majority of complaints are solved by talking to someone at the school, but if you are still unhappy, all schools have their own procedure for dealing with complaints and you can ask for a copy.

Do all schools use the same complaints procedure?

No. For example, voluntary aided church schools may choose to follow the Diocesan Education Authorities’ procedures rather than our guidance. Free schools and academies have their own procedures. Ask at your child’s school for a copy of their complaints procedure so you know what steps to take to progress your complaint. By law, all schools must have a complaints procedure and make it available. It is important to remember that you must take your complaint to the school itself and to follow its procedure.

Community schools

In the case of community schools that have adopted our guidance, there are three main steps in making a complaint. This applies to most local community schools, but not to voluntary aided schools, free schools or academies. Ask for a copy of your own school’s procedure.

Stage 1 for community schools (informal)

You should contact the school first and tell a teacher or the headteacher about your complaint. Few people want a long, drawn-out process, so the aim is to make sure that complaints are resolved promptly and informally wherever possible. It may help to make an appointment with the headteacher to discuss your concerns at this stage. The school will reply to your complaint within 15 school days.

Stage 2 for community schools

If you can’t resolve the matter informally, or if your complaint is specifically about the headteacher, the next step is to write to the chair of governors, care of the school address. The chair of governors will investigate your complaint. At the end of the investigation, you may be invited to a meeting to get feedback or you will receive a full written response by post. You should receive a reply within 15 school days.

Stage 3 for community schools

If you are still unhappy after this investigation, an independent panel of governors will convene a complaints committee to hear your case at a mutually convenient time and place. This is the last school-based stage of the community schools’ complaints process. You should receive a reply within 20 school days.

If you have already followed a school’s own complaints procedure or there are reasons why you cannot use that procedure – if, for example, you feel your complaint has not been or will not be given fair consideration due to a conflict of interest – you can send your complaint to the Department for Education.

Free schools and academies

These have to have complaints procedures meeting certain requirements of the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010 and to make the procedure available to parents of pupils and prospective parents.

If you have taken your complaint to the free school or academy itself and followed its procedure, but remain dissatisfied, you can ask the Department for Education (DfE) to look at your concerns. The DfE’s Education Funding Agency (EFA), the Department’s delivery agency for funding and compliance, cannot review or overturn a free school or academy’s decision about a complaint but will look at whether the school considered the complaint appropriately.

The EFA will generally only do this after a complaint has been through the academy’s own procedure but may investigate sooner if there is evidence of undue delays. If the EFA finds that a free school or academy did not deal with a complaint appropriately it will ask for the complaint to be reconsidered. Similarly, if the school’s complaints procedure does not meet statutory requirements then the EFA will make sure this is put right.

Get more information on complaints about academies and free schools – EFA’s role.

Are there any exceptions to these complaints procedures?

Some complaints are dealt with in a slightly different way. There are special arrangements in law if you want to appeal about:

  • admissions to school
  • exclusions from school
  • special education provision
  • school reorganisation proposals
  • religious education and collective worship
  • curriculum issues

Set procedures must be followed for each of the above. You can get free legal advice on these procedures and other educational matters at Coram Children’s Legal Centre.

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