Complaints to Maintained Schools

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 schoolFlowchart



  • Request a copy of the school’s Complaints Policy and other relevant policies and take note of what this policy says about the school’s Complaints Process.
  • Write a letter to the school requesting a copy of your child’s education records under the Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005 and the Data Protection Act 1998. These school records should be made available to you within 15 school days.
  • Write your letter of complaint and submit this in line with the process set out in the school’s Complaints Policy. Our ‘How-To Guide’ on ‘Complaints To Schools’ has further information and a sample letter.
  • If you are unhappy with the outcome of the internal complaints process (i.e. through the Head Teacher and then the Governing Body), you might wish to escalate your complaint.
  • In some situations you can escalate the complaint to the Department for Education.
  • See our How to Guide on ‘Complaints to Schools‘ for further information.


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:

  1. Complaint to staff member (informal)
  2. Complaint to head teacher (formal)
  3. Complaint to the Chair of the Governing Body
  4. 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 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 make a complaint to the Department 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 Department for Education will check if the school has followed its policies and any other relevant policies as well as its legal obligations. The Department for Education will not consider the subject matter of the complaint as such but rather how the school have dealt with the complaint. 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 Department for Education will usually make recommendations to the school on the law and how this applies to the school if they find the school have not behaved appropriatley. The Department for Education will not take punitive action against a school but can pass on its finding to other relevant bodies, such as the Local Authority or Ofsted.

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.

Judicial Review

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.