What if my child’s needs are not being met?

Last modified: March 12, 2019
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If your child’s needs are not being met within a school and they seem indifferent (or perhaps they are trying to persuade you to look elsewhere), ask for a copy of the schools complaint procedure policy.  This should be available on their website, but it often helps to ask for a copy as it makes the school aware that you are genuinely unhappy.

The Department for Education also produce a guide for schools on their complaints procedures.  It covers much of what the DfE expect the school to do with regard to complaints.

Another useful resource is from NHS England – A guide to make conversations with schools count for all families


Always put everything in writing.  

Top Tip:  If the school ring you to discuss an email you have sent, make notes and then send then an email or letter saying “I just wanted to confirm our conversation today.  My understanding is that you will………..”.  

The complaint process:

Usually complaints procedures have three tiers.   

Give feedback.  This is the first step.  Often the school’s complaints procedure will ask you to speak to the teacher/relevant person in the first instance.  

Sometimes just giving feedback is enough.  

Often, our children allow their anxiety to build up in silence at school and then we have the joy of the explosion when they arrive home.  The school may genuinely be unaware that your child is having some issues.  

If your child has prior experience of being treated negatively when they have struggled, they may be less likely to admit to struggling again.  Some teachers and teaching assistants are better at figuring out when a child is struggling than others.

Raise a concern:  If you have given feedback but nothing has changed (and we know this happens), then the next step is to raise it as a concern.  School complaints procedures will generally ask for you to write to the head teacher if you have already given feedback and nothing has changed.  When you email, let them know what your concerns are, who you have spoken to about the concerns and if appropriate, remind them of their legal duties detailed in the School Duties section of this guide.

Make a complaint:  If you have given feedback and raised a concern and still no change, then the next level is a formal complaint.  This is usually step three in a school’s complaints procedure.  Write to the Governors or Management Committee, explaining what the concerns are, who you have spoken to and why their response is not satisfactory.    

Going through all three steps is time consuming however, it is difficult, if not impossible, to move up the chain to the Local Authority, the Department for Education or the Local Government Ombudsman unless you have followed the school’s complaints procedure first.  It is often one of the first questions that will be asked of you.

Write to the Local Authority

It may be helpful for you, if your child has an EHC Plan, to write to your local authority.  They have a legal duty to ensure that everything in the plan is being delivered.  If your concerns are around the provision specified in the plan not being delivered, it is the LA’s legal duty to ensure it is.

Write to Department for Education

If you are not happy with the response from the Governing Body or Management Committee of a school or college, (or the Local Authority have not assisted if you have contacted them), the next stage is to complain to the Department for Education (DfE).

This letter of complaint should contain the facts.  Try to summarise, if possible, with the details being available in supporting evidence (letters, emails, etc).  It should also contain details of why you believe the complaints procedure failed to address the issues you raised and why you believe this is unlawful.

The DfE have the power to insist schools or Local Authorities make changes and can also issue a reminder of the legislation if they believe the law is being ignored.  

To complain to the DfE, you must use their online contact form 

Write to Ofsted

If you are not happy with the response from the DfE and you believe it has not resolved the issue, you can complain to Ofsted. 

Although Ofsted cannot investigate individual complaints about a child, it can call an immediate inspection if it is a serious complaint, or they can ask the school to provide information.

Again, to complain to Ofsted, you must use their online contact form.

Judicial Review

If you have done all of the above, and still no joy, then it may be necessary to consider a Judicial Review.

This is when you ask a Court to decide whether a decision made by the school or LA (or other public body) is lawful.  

This is not to be used when you are complaining about the contents of an EHC Plan (i.e. you are not happy with the contents detailed in the Plan).  In this case, you should appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (The SEND Tribunal).

Judicial Reviews are when there is no other way for a complaint to be resolved.  If you have contacted the LA and they have still not ensured that the provision in a Plan is being provided, then a Judicial Review is the way forward.

Judicial Reviews must be applied for within three months of the complaint.  Sometimes you may find you have to apply for Judicial Review in the middle of the complaints procedure due to the time limits.  

You must be able to show that you have done everything you possibly can to resolve the issue and that the LA (or other public body) is failing in their legal duty.  You cannot apply for Judicial Review just because you disagree with the response, if the LA or School are complying with the law.  

IPSEA offer further advice on Judicial Review including the different stages and how to start an action, along with details of what a Judicial Review can achieve.  

For more information on Judicial Reviews, Steve Broach has written a great article over on his blog – Why Judicial Review is a real remedy in SEN and Disability cases https://rightsinreality.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/why-judicial-review-is-a-real-remedy-in-sen-and-disability-cases/

Legal Advice

When you are considering Judicial Review, it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice.

You may be eligible for legal aid, or it may be possible to get legal aid in your child’s name. 

If you do not qualify for legal aid, you can get free advice from Citizens Advice or The Law Centres Network.

Local Government Ombudsman

If you have complained to the School, LA, DfE and remain unhappy; and you do not meet the criteria to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal, then you may be able to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.  However, please note that they cannot look at complaints about Academies, these must be addressed with the DfE unless the school has recently converted to an Academy.

The LGO can look at a variety of complaints about education.  This can include 

  • education other than at school, 
  • exclusion from school (unless it can be appealed as disability discrimination),
  • special educational needs (if LA is failing to ensure specified provision is arranged and maintained or there is a delay in assessing a child or issuing an EHC Plan)and 
  • school transport.

The LGO will ask that you go through the complaints procedures of the school/LA first and that you complain to them within 12 months of the issue arising.

You must also be directly affected by the matter.   If you have the right to appeal and choose not to, the LGO will not consider your complaint.  For example, the LGO will not look at a complaint about school admission if you are unhappy with the school named in your EHC Plan as this can be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal.  

To complain to the LGO, you can either complete their online form, or phone their helpline (Mon to Fri 8.30-5.00) on 0300 061 0614 or text them on 0762 481 1595

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