What is the complaints procedure for a complaint against a maintained school?
Under section 39 Education Act 2002, a ‘maintained school’ means
“a community, foundation or voluntary school, a community or foundation special school or a maintained nursery school“.
Every maintained school and maintained nursery must have a published written complaints procedure (section 29 Education Act 2002). The government has also issued Departmental Advice called “Best Practice Advice for School Complaints Procedures 2016“, to help schools and Local Authorities understand their obligations under the law.
Below you will find a flowchart explaining the procedure for a complaint against a maintained school.
Complaint against a maintained school – Flowchart
Who can make a complaint?
Complaints can be made by parents, carers and members of the wider community. Complaints can also be made on behalf of an ex-pupil of the school.
What information do I need to make a complaint?
You should request a copy of the school Complaints Policy in writing to the head teacher of the school.
You may also wish to ask for disclosure of your child’s educational records under the Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998. These records should be made available within 15 school days. Please note the school can charge a fee (maximum of £50) for photocopying but not for viewing these records.
How do I interpret the complaints policy?
If the policy uses the words “must” or “will”, the school is required to carry out that action. If a school fails to do this, the Secretary of State can consider a breach of school policy. If the policy uses the term “should” or “may”, the school is not under a specific obligation to carry out that action.
What stages of complaint are possible?
The government’s Advice recommends a 4 stage procedure for complaints, if this is appropriate, as follows:
- Complaint to staff member (informal)
- Complaint to head teacher (formal)
- Complaint to the Chair of the Governing Body
- Complaint to Governing Body Appeal Panel
Each school may have a different procedure for complaints but it is very common for an initial complaint to be made in writing to the head teacher of the school. It is also good practice to send a copy of your complaint to the Chair of Governors.
Your complaint will then be addressed either through correspondence or through a meeting with the Chair of Governors depending on the school’s complaints procedure.
The governmental Advice recommends that the person investigating the complaint should investigate what has happened so far and who has been involved, and clarify what needs to be resolved by meeting with the person making the complaint. The person investigating is recommended to keep a written record of any meetings in relation to the complaint as well as the progress and final outcome of the complaint.
There should be a reasonable timeframe for dealing with the complaint and the school should inform you of any deadlines and delays.
What happens at the Governing Body Review?
Governing bodies are expected to regularly monitor and review complaints received by a school. The Governing Body Appeal Panel can reach any of the following decisions when considering a complaint:
- dismiss the complaint in whole or in part;
- uphold the complaint in whole or in part;
- make a decision on action needed to resolve the complaint;
- recommend changes to the school’s systems and procedures to prevent the issue from happening again.
The governmental Advice recommends that there any Governing Body Review Meeting is served by a ‘Clerk’, whose role includes:
- communicating details of the Review Meeting to the person making the complaint;
- sharing written materials; and
- keeping a written record of the meeting.
It is also recommended that the Chair of Governors chairs the meeting.
What outcome can I expect from the school?
When making the complaint, you should consider asking the school for the list of available remedies. The governmental Advice recommends the following types of outcome:
- acknowledging the complaint as valid;
- issuing an apology;
- providing an explanation;
- admitting that the situation was not handled correctly;
- outlining the steps to prevent the situation from happening again;
- agreeing to review school policies.
Can I complain again if I am dissatisfied with the outcome of the complaint from the school?
There should be a procedure in place for escalating a complaint if you are unhappy with the outcome. Usually, a school will not look into a complaint about exactly the same issue where it has already been considered; there is a risk that the complaint is deemed to be vexatious if you try to pursue the same complaint.
Can I make a complaint to the Local Authority?
If you still feel that your complaint has not been listened to, your next option is to make a complaint to your Local Authority. It is good practice to request a copy of the Local Authority Complaints Policy which will set out time-scales and how to begin your complaint. You will usually find Local Authority complaints information on their website.
The Local Authority can look into the following complaints:
- failure of a Governing Body to adequately respond to a complaint;
- failure to follow statutory guidance – e.g. failure to provide education to a permanently excluded pupil;
- failure to implement a Statement of SEN or Education Health and Care Plan;
- failure to find a school place for a pupil.
Parents can ask a Local Authority to intervene under section 62 School Standards and Framework Act 1998. This provision gives a Local Authority the power to take such steps as it considers necessary to prevent the breakdown, or continuing breakdown, of discipline in a school. The power can only be exercised where the Local Authority is of the opinion that the behaviour of certain pupils is severely prejudicing the education of other pupils. For more information regarding this please see page on Bullying.
It is important to note that not all Local Authorities will look into school issue complaints, particularly if they feel it can be addressed within the internal school management system.
Most Local Authorities will operate a 3 stage complaints process such as:
- Stage 1: Informal resolution
- Stage 2: Formal complaint – an investigation undertaken by internal staff
- Stage 3: External investigation by an independent organization or individual.
If you feel, once you have been through Stage 1 of your complaint, that your complaint has still not been dealt with, you should state this in your complaint and ask it to be dealt with as a Stage 2 complaint from the outset.
Can I make a complaint about teacher misconduct?
You can report serious professional misconduct of a teacher to the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA). The TRA will only look into cases where the misconduct could result in that teacher being disqualified; this could include:
- unacceptable professional conduct;
- conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute; or
- conviction of an offence such as sex, violence, terrorism, hate crime, fraud, theft, possession or supply of drugs among others.
The TRA cannot look into complaints about a teacher’s performance or competence.
Under the Teachers’ Disciplinary (England) Regulations 2012, the TRA can only look into allegations against teachers who are, or have ever been, employed or engaged to carry out teaching work at:
- a school in England;
- a sixth form college in England;
- relevant youth accommodation in England;
- a children’s home in England; or
- a 16 to 19 Academy;
and when employed in these settings have been engaged in:
- planning and preparing lessons and courses for pupils;
- delivering lessons to pupils;
- assessing the development, progress and attainment of pupils; and
- reporting on the development, progress and attainment of pupils.
The TRA cannot usually consider allegations against teaching assistants, higher level teaching assistants or other support staff not engaged in unsupervised teaching activities.
To make a complaint to TRA, you must first have tried all local complaints procedures including contacting the school’s head teacher and/or chair of governors and contacting the Local Authority.
To make this complaint, you should use the teacher misconduct referral form and include:
- details of the allegations;
- chronology of events including any previous complaints made;
- documents as evidence of previous complaints, correspondence with the school, the school complaints policy, any complaints to the police, any complaints to other bodies such as the Local Authority and signed witness statements.
Can I complain to the Local Government Ombudsman?
The Local Government Ombudsman can look into the following complaints:
- School Admissions
- The Ombudsman can consider whether your child has been refused a school place because of some unfairness or mistake by the admissions authority, or if your appeal was handled incorrectly. This must be after you have appealed to the Independent Appeal Panel.
- The Ombudsman can consider whether the admissions authority has arranged an appeal hearing for you within a reasonable time.
- Complaints about a school waiting list.
- Complaints about delay in arranging a school place once a Statement of SEN or an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) has been issued.
- School Transport
- The Ombudsman can consider your complaint if you think you were refused help unfairly, or because of a mistake, or because your request for help was not handled correctly.
- You must have appealed the transport decision first.
- Special Educational Needs
- The Ombudsman can investigate a complaint that a council has failed to deal properly with a child’s special educational needs (SEN). This includes delay in assessing a child and issuing a statement of SEN or an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) (from September 2014), failing to implement a statement / EHCP or carry out an Annual Review.
- The Ombudsman can consider complaints about the transitional arrangements between a Statement of SEN and an EHCP.
- The Ombudsman can consider complaints about rules for personal budgets, greater involvement of children and particularly young people over the age of 16 in decisions about their provision and the ‘Local Offer’ councils must set out for the SEN provision in their area.
- School Exclusions
- The Ombudsman can consider complaints about the way that an Independent Appeal Panel reviews a decision to exclude.
- The Ombudsman can consider complaints about the Local Authority’s duty to provide education to children who have been permanently excluded.
- Home Education
- The Ombudsman can consider complaints about Local Authority demands for you to prove that the education you are providing at home is adequate, or any failures of the Local Authority to respond to guidance.
The Local Government Ombudsman no longer has the power to investigate complaints about the internal management of schools. The LGO can only investigate complaints about the way a Local Authority has acted or failed to act, where there has been ‘maladministration’ by the Local Authority which has caused ‘injustice’.
What is maladministration?
Maladministration means something that the Local Authority has done wrong, or failed to do, that directly affected the complainant. The LGO will not get involved where you simply disagree with the action that has been taken by the Local Authority or school. ‘Maladministration’ may have occurred where the Local Authority has:
- taken too long to take action, without good reason;
- not followed its own rules or the law;
- taken incorrect action or failed to take action at all;
- failed to follow it’s own polices;
- failed to provide information or given the wrong information;
- not made a decision in the correct way;
- failed to take relevant considerations into account in making a decision;
- failed to investigate;
- failed to deal with a letter or other enquiries;
- failed to comply with legal requirements;
- made misleading or inaccurate statements.
What is meant by causing an ‘injustice’?
‘Injustice’ may include:
- harm to feelings;
- a missed opportunity;
- being put to avoidable time and trouble.
If you decide to pursue a complaint through the Local Government Ombudsman, please note that a complaint must be made in writing, within 12 months when you first became aware of the matter being complained about.
The LGO will then decide whether there has been maladministration and make recommendations. For further information or to contact the Local Government Ombudsman, their advice line number is 0300 061 0614.
Can I make a complaint to the Secretary of State for Education?
If you have exhausted all local procedures for your complaint, it is possible to escalate the complaint to The School Complaints Unit of the Department for Education in some situations.
The School Complaints Unit will check if the school has followed its policies and any other relevant policies as well as its legal obligations. The School Complaints Unit will not consider the subject matter of the complaint as such. The following are examples of when the Department for Education will consider complaints:
- The school or Local Authority has failed to make adequate arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child under (section 175 Education Act 2002).
- The Governing Body or Local Authority has acted unreasonably with respect to the exercise of any power or the performance of any duty imposed by the Education Act 1996 (section 496 Education Act 1996).
- The Governing Body or Local Authority has failed to discharge any duty imposed on them by or for the purposes of the Education Act 1996 (section 497 Education Act 1996).
- The Local Authority has failed to perform to an adequate standard and function conferred on it in its capacity as a local authority (section 497 Education Act 1996).
The School Complaints Unit can report any breaches of policy or legislation to the school and direct for remedial action. If a school fails to do this, the Secretary of State for Education can issue a formal Direction to the school.
Can I make a complaint to OFSTED?
Ofsted can hear complaints about problems which affect the whole school, after you have exhausted the internal complaints procedure – for example, the quality of education, poor management or leadership or neglect of a group of pupil’s personal development and well-being. The government has issued guidance for parents and carers on Complaints to Ofsted about schools.
Ofsted will not investigate cases about:
- individual pupils;
- admission procedures;
- lawful exclusions;
- education for children with SEN;
- religious education;
- temporary changes to the curriculum;
- how a school has investigated or responded to a complaint;
- independent schools;
- colleges for 16-18 year olds.
Ofsted should respond to your complaint within 30 working days.
Can I take legal action against a school?
You may be able to take legal action against the school your child attends. You could instruct a solicitor specialising in Education to write a letter of complaint. This may not be the best course of action as could affect the relationship between you and the school. There is no longer any Legal Aid available for complaint cases.
You may be able to judicially review a school decision if you feel this decision is unreasonable or unlawful. The court will check the actions or decision of the school and can require them to reconsider. You can only judicially review the decision of a state funded school (decisions of independent schools cannot be challenged in this way).
Examples of decisions that could be judicially reviewed are:
- unlawful exclusions from school;
- failure to provide the support in a child’s Statement of Special Educational Needs;
- removal from the school roll; or
- withdrawal of a place offered at the school without justification.
You would need to seek legal advice to take such action. To find a solicitor who specialises in education if you are eligible for legal aid please contact Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4345. Otherwise, please visit the Law Society website for solicitors who are available in your local area.
If you have concerns about the way the school treated your child, it may also be possible to bring an ‘educational negligence’ case for your child. This must be brought before your child reaches 21 years of age.
To establish educational negligence, you would need to prove the following:
- that the school / Local Authority owe your child a duty of care;
- that the school / Local Authority have breached this duty;
- that the child has suffered identifiable loss/damage due to this breach.
You would need proof to demonstrate that the duty of care had been breached and that your child has suffered loss. To bring a case for educational negligence, it would be advisable to seek legal advice from an educational negligence specialist.