How to complain

Please find your problem in the left-hand column of the table below, then look at the steps you can take.

The links will take you to detailed help. You may need to use more than one route of complaint, and you may need more advice from our helplines. You can also find specific help on this web site on assessments and statementing.

Table of page contents
Your problem Step 1: complain to If not satisfied, step 2: complain to If not satisfied, step 3: go to
School not carrying out SEN responsibilities Governing body

High Court to:

Secretary of State (government minister for education)
Local authority (LA) not carrying out SEN responsibilities LA Local Government Ombudsman
Information Commissioner
Secretary of State (government minister for education)
LA’s decision on SEN is wrong Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal (SEND) Tribunal to review their decision
All problems Pressure via media, councillor, MP etc.

School complaint: complain to governing body

Most complaints about schools should begin with the school complaints procedure. By law, schools must have a procedure for parents to complain (Section 29 of the Education Act 2002). If you cannot resolve a problem informally, for example with the class teacher, head of year, deputy head or head teacher, then ask for a copy of the procedure.

Formal complaints usually end with the governing body, although some schools and local authorities may offer a further stage of complaint to the local education authority, or access to a mediation service.

A complaint to the governing body should be addressed to the chair of governors care of the school. If the school is a community or voluntary controlled school (i.e. local authority maintained, run by the council) you could also send a copy of the letter to the director in charge of local education services, often called children’s services.

In very serious cases, you could ask a solicitor to help with a letter. A solicitor might be able to add some legal points which could strengthen your case.

Try to include precise details of dates, times, meetings and decisions that may help the governing body understand the substance of your complaint. Explain what harm you or your child have suffered as a result of the school’s action or inaction. Say what you would like the governing body to do to put things right, for example:

  • Offer an apology
  • Provide extra support for your child
  • Change a school policy

The governing body is likely to pass your complaint to a panel of three or five governors. They may invite you to a meeting to put your case in more detail. They should follow the rules of natural justice. These say that:

  • No member should have a vested interest in the outcome or any involvement in an earlier stage of the procedure
  • Each side should be given the opportunity to state their case without unreasonable interruption
  • Written material must have been seen by all parties.
  • If new issues arise, parties should be given the opportunity to consider and comment on it.

In many cases where you can complain to an outside body, you must first exhaust the school’s complaints procedure before the relevant body will consider your complaint. For example:

Complaints procedures
Nature of complaint Relevant body
Quality of education in a school Ofsted
Misconduct of a teacher General Teaching Council
Breaches of Data Protection Act or Freedom of Information Act Information Commissioner


Advantages of school complaints

  1. No financial cost unless you consult a solicitor
  2. You will put your concern on the record with those who have overall responsibility for the school
  3. In some cases you can take your complaint further if unresolved.


  1. Making a formal complaint may make you unpopular with teachers and damage your relationship with the school
  2. There may be resentment against your child resulting in problems down the line
  3. Remedies may be limited if teachers have already demonstrated that they are unable or unwilling to put things right.
  4. Using a solicitor would be expensive and it may be hard to find someone with the right expertise

Curriculum complaints

Specific complaints about the curriculum should be made in the first instance through the schools complaints procedure if possible. For all types of maintained school (but not academies or CTCs) you may also complain to the local education authority which must set up a complaints procedure under Section 409 of the Education Act 1996 (as amended by Paragraph 107, Schedule 30 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998).

Go to 'Complain to your local authority' for more information.

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School complaint: complain to Ofsted

Ofsted is the body which inspects a range of public services including schools which are inspected at least once every three years. Schools are required to notify parents of the inspection, and to include details of how they can pass their views to inspectors. Parents can ask to speak to inspectors during the inspection.

In addition, parents have a legal right to complain to Ofsted on the work of:

  • maintained schools
  • academies
  • city technology colleges
  • maintained nursery schools
  • non-maintained special schools

For example, Ofsted could investigate complaints about:

  • The quality of education provided by the school and the standards achieved
  • Inadequate provision for pupils with SEN
  • Neglect of pupils’ personal development and well-being
  • The quality of the leadership and management e.g. whether the school spends its money well (this could include the SEN budget).

Ofsted cannot investigate complaints about problems affecting an individual child, however.

For example, Ofsted could not investigate complaints about:

  • Your child receiving inadequate help for their SEN
  • Discrimination against your child because of their disability
  • A particular incident
  • The way the school has dealt with a complaint from you.

Before complaining to Ofsted you need to exhaust the local complaints routes, e.g. complaining to the school and/or local authority. If you then decide to make a complaint in writing to Ofsted, it will acknowledge it within five working days and provide a fuller response within 20 working days.

To complain

Use an online form:
Or phone 08456 40 40 45 for advice
Or email:

The law

The right to complain to Ofsted was introduced by the Education (Investigation of Parents’ Complaints) (England) Regulations 2007 made under Sections 11A and 120 Education Act 2005 (as amended by Section 160 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006).


  • Ofsted can call an immediate inspection at short notice if it feels your complaint is very serious
  • Ofsted can order the school to call a meeting of parents to be chaired by an inspector
  • Ofsted can require a school or local authority to provide information
  • Ofsted can discuss your concerns informally with the school or consider them when it next inspects the school
  • No financial cost.


  • Ofsted may need to give your name to the school to investigate properly which may affect your relationship with the school. (You can complain anonymously but this would restrict what Ofsted can do on your behalf)
  • Ofsted would only rarely call an immediate inspection in response to a complaint
  • There is no legal time limit in which to hear your complaint
  • Ofsted cannot provide a remedy to an individual, or mediate between you and the school to resolve a dispute.

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School complaint: complain to the General Teaching Council

The General Teaching Council (GTC) regulates the teaching profession and keeps a register of qualified teachers. It can consider complaints from parents about serious misconduct of teachers. However, it will expect you to use the school complaints procedure first and, where the local authority is the employer, complain to the authority too.

Local authorities share employment responsibilities with the governing body for teachers who work in:

  • Community schools
  • Voluntary controlled schools

Governing bodies of schools are the sole employers in the case of:

  • Voluntary aided schools
  • Foundation schools
  • Academies
  • City technology colleges

If you complain to the GTC your complaint will be considered initially by an Investigating Committee who may refer the case to a hearing or may decide to discontinue the case if it does not raise concerns relevant to a teacher’s registration. Child protection cases are referred to the Department of Children, Schools and Families.

To complain

You can get more information about complaining to the GTC from:
By email:

By post:

General Teaching Council for England
Whittington House
19–30 Alfred Place
London WC1E 7EA

The GTC has the power to:

  • Issue a reprimand
  • Require a teacher to attend training if they are to remain registered
  • Suspend a teacher from the register for up to two years
  • Prohibit a teacher from teaching in a state school or non-maintained special school for a period of time.


  • The GTC has strong powers to act, including preventing someone working as a teacher in the state sector
  • Low financial cost
  • Hearings are normally held in public.


  • A complaint about a teacher’s competence (as opposed to misconduct) can only be referred by an employer
  • There is no legal timetable in which to hear your complaint
  • Your complaint would need to be very serious to be considered by the GTC
  • May alienate the professionals working with your child
  • No compensation even if you prove your child was harmed.

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Complain to Information Commissioner

If you have problems accessing school records, minutes of governors’ meetings, school policies or other public documents, or if you believe your child’s records have been disclosed unlawfully, are incorrect or out of date, you may complain to the Information Commissioner. You should first exhaust the school or local authority complaints procedure.

Remember to put your request for information in writing and address it to the Chair of the Governing Body (for schools) or the Chief Officer (for local authorities).

There are different timescales for the school to reply to your written request.

  • A copy of a child’s educational record must be supplied within 15 school days. (The Education (Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2005 [SI 1437])
  • Other personal information must be supplied within 40 days of your written request under Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998.
  • Documents such as the school SEN policy, school accessibility plan or governing body minutes must be provided within 20 working days (excluding school holidays) of your written request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000).

You need not specify which legislation you are requesting the information under. There may be a cost for photocopying.

To complain

See the Commissioner's web site:
or phone 08456 306060 or 01625 545745

If a governing body fails to provide the school record under the Information Regulations (see above), you can complain to the Secretary of State.

Advantages of complaining to the Information Commissioner

  • No cost
  • Can intervene informally or formally on your behalf
  • Can prosecute those who commit criminal offences under the DPA or refer cases of non-compliance with an enforcement order under the FoIA to the High Court.


  • Slow: powers used only after you have exhausted local complaints procedures
  • No power to punish an offending organisation
  • No power to order compensation.

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Complain to the Secretary of State

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is the part of central government responsible for national education policy in England. The Secretary of State (the main government minister) for this department has power to hear complaints about maintained schools and local authorities which behave unlawfully and/or unreasonably. These are complaints under Sections 496 (unreasonably) and 497 (unlawfully) of the Education Act 1996. The Secretary of State has powers to direct schools and local authorities to take action to remedy any unlawful or unreasonable act.

Complaints against an LEA or school acting unreasonably are less easy to make than complaints on the grounds that they have failed to fulfil a legal duty. That is because there is not a clear definition in law of what 'unreasonable' means.

As a general rule, if you can make a complaint under Section 497 of the Act ('failure to fulfil a legal duty') then do that, rather than complaining of unreasonableness. However, in some cases, the complaint of unreasonableness is the only option, for example, where an LEA is acting legally and there is no appeal to the Tribunal.

To complain

Your complaint should be in writing and mention the sections of the Act to ensure that the Department handles it as a formal complaint. Write to:

The Secretary of State
Department for Education
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT

In your letter you must:

  • Say you are making the complaint under Sections 496 and/or 497 of the Education Act 1996
  • Quote the specific legal duty which your LA or school has failed to fulfil (e.g. failing to complete a statutory assessment within the legal time limit)
  • Give the evidence including copies of any letters which you have sent and received which show what has happened.

It may be helpful to send a copy of your letter to a local councillor and ask for them to take the matter up directly with the council.

The Department undertake to respond within 15 working days but their investigation may take more than six months. The Department keeps no records of the outcome of the complaints it receives so it is hard to know how effective this course of action is. IPSEA has some experience of success with particular complaints, for example where local authorities are flouting the law in relation to special education. In these cases the Department issued letters requiring authorities to put things right. It may be harder for individual parents to receive a remedy from the Secretary of State, however.

It is worth trying to make an informal complaint first especially where things might be put right by a single phone call, for example. Make your complaint brief and very focused to have the best chance of success. The phone number of the DfE is 0870 000 2288.


  • No financial cost
  • The Secretary of State has considerable powers to direct schools and local authorities
  • The Department may put pressure on a school or local authority or issue guidance where it believes the law or good practice is being ignored.


  • The Secretary of State rarely uses his or her powers
  • Slow: it could be months before a response is received
  • Response may depend on whose desk your complaint lands on
  • If there is no remedy, for example because your child has left the school concerned, the Department is unlikely to take up your complaint.

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Complain to the local authority

Complaints about local authority services should be made to the most senior education officer, usually called the Chief Education Officer, Director of Children’s Services or Director of Education.

You have to give the local authority the opportunity to put things right before you can take up a matter elsewhere, e.g. with the Local Government Ombudsman, the General Teaching Council or the Secretary of State.

Get the complaints procedure

You can find out about how to complain from the local authority web site or by asking for a copy of their complaints procedure at their offices. This will set out the time limit for replying to your complaint. The authority’s address will be in the phone book or ask at your local library, or try the local authority address finder.

Always send a written complaint by recorded delivery or ask for a receipt if you deliver it by hand, and keep a copy.

Using the Monitoring Officer

If your complaint is about a local authority behaving unlawfully or contravening a Code of Practice (such as the SEN Code) then you could write to the Monitoring Officer at the local authority.

Under Section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 all local authorities must appoint a Monitoring Officer to check these out or investigate where maladministration is identified by the Local Government Ombudsman.


  1. No financial cost
  2. Low risk
  3. You can use it in an individual case or if you want to challenge a policy which you think is unlawful
  4. A senior council officer from outside the local authority has to consider the complaint personally
  5. The Monitoring Officer has a duty to report if s/he believes there has been a contravention
  6. The relevant committee must consider any report from the Monitoring Officer and has to suspend implementation of the relevant decision until it has done so.


  1. The Monitoring Officer is relatively toothless

Curriculum complaints

Local authorities are required to set up a procedure for parents in maintained schools to make complaints about the following:

  • Failing to provide the National Curriculum (NC) (for example where a school has decided a child cannot take or cannot drop a particular NC subject)
  • Charging for education, except where this is lawful
  • Offering qualifications or syllabuses which are not approved
  • Failing to provide religious education and daily collective worship
  • Failing to provide information which by law they must provide
  • Failing to carry out any other statutory duty relating to the curriculum
  • Acting unreasonably in relation to the above.

(Section 409 Education Act 1996 amended by paragraph 107, Schedule 30, School Standards and Framework Act 1998).

Where the complaint is about provision in school, it should be made firstly to the governing body of the school.

Modification of the National Curriculum

Parents can ask head teachers to modify the National Curriculum for their child or exempt them from a particular NC subject, or a school may propose doing this. This is generally where a child with SEN or other difficulties (but without a statement) is unable for a temporary period to benefit or take part in the full NC. If a child has a statement any modifications or exemptions to the NC must be set out in Part 3.

If parents disagree with a head teacher’s decision, they may appeal to the governing body. If that fails, parents may complain to the local authority under the curriculum complaint procedure described above.


  • Cheap
  • Covers a range of schools’ legal duties.


  • Widespread ignorance in schools and LAs of these procedures – you may have to quote the law to invoke your rights
  • Governing bodies and local authorities are likely to bow to the head’s professional opinion unless you can show that it is unlawful or extremely unreasonable
  • No legal timetable to hear such complaints.

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Complain to the Ombudsman

The Local Government Ombudsman, or Commission for Local Administration to give it its official title, investigates complaints of injustice arising from maladministration by local authorities and exclusion and admission appeal panels.

You or your child can complain if you have suffered injustice because of bad, illegal or unfair procedures, policies or decision-making processes.

The Ombudsman considers the way a decision is reached, not with the merits of the decision itself, so you cannot complain just because you do not agree with a decision. The main test of whether there has been maladministration is whether an authority has acted reasonably within the law, its own policies and the good practice standards of local administration.

The Ombudsman expects complaints to be made first of all to the local authority before they will investigate. If there is an alternative remedy such as an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, the Ombudsman will expect you to use that route instead.

Examples of where you might complain to the Ombudsman:

  • A local authority fails to comply with legal deadlines to carry out a statutory assessment or issue a statement
  • A local authority fails to properly consider your child’s case for free transport
  • The help in Part 3 of your child’s statement is not being provided even though you have asked the local authority to put this right
  • An independent appeal panel failed to consider your disability discrimination claim in an exclusion case
  • Your child has missed out on education, for example, following an unlawful exclusion.

You should complain to the Ombudsman within a year of the date that the event took place unless you have exceptional reasons such as a serious illness which prevented you from complaining earlier.

To complain

Get ‘How to complain’ from

Advice line 0845 602 1983 Monday to Friday 9.00am to 4.30pm.

If the Ombudsman decides there had been maladministration leading to injustice, s/he can make recommendations to local authorities but cannot require them to carry them out. However, it is very rare for a local authority to ignore a recommendation.


  • No financial cost
  • The Ombudsman has powers to make a thorough investigation including requiring a LA to provide documents
  • The Ombudsman is not restricted to investigating illegality but can look at wider issues of maladministration
  • The Ombudsman can recommend a range of remedies, including apologies, compensation for your child and you, and a fresh hearing
  • If the Ombudsman finds in your favour and believes it would be in the public interest, s/he writes a report which is made public (although anonymised). This makes recommendations and monitors the outcome
  • The LA must consider the Ombudsman’s report within three months.


  • Slow: you will need to have exhausted local complaints procedures first and investigations normally take three months although cases can be fast tracked if urgent
  • Compensation, if recommended, is generally modest
  • The Ombudsman cannot investigate internal school matters such as a failure to provide help at School Action
  • The Ombudsman cannot investigate if there is an alternative remedy or a legal action, unless it would not be reasonable to expect the person to go to court or take legal action.

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Appeals to the Tribunal

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal is a national independent tribunal (low level court) which hears parents’ appeals against local authority decisions about their child’s special education. SENDIST also hears claims from parents about disability discrimination against schools and local authorities. Disability discrimination claims are not covered here (see

A parent can appeal to the Tribunal for the following reasons:

  1. If the local authority refuses to carry out a statutory assessment of their child’s special educational needs
  2. If the local authority refuses to carry out a statutory re-assessment of their child’s special educational needs
    In both (1) and (2) there is no right of appeal if an assessment has been made in the previous six months.
    The Tribunal can either dismiss the appeal or order the local authority to arrange an assessment.
  3. If the local authority refuses to issue a statement after carrying out a statutory assessment under Section 323 of the Education Act 1996.
    The Tribunal can dismiss the appeal, order the local authority to make and maintain a statement or remit the case to the local authority for reconsideration in the light of the Tribunal’s observations.
  4. If, following the issue of a final statement, an amended final statement, or the refusal to amend a statement following assessment, the parent disagrees with the description of the child’s special educational needs, the description of the special educational provision, the school named or the fact that no school has been named.
    The Tribunal may dismiss the appeal, order the local authority to amend the statement or order the local authority to cease to maintain the statement.
  5. If the local authority refuses to change the school named in the statement.
    The Tribunal may either dismiss the appeal or order the local authority to name the school named by the parent. You can only appeal for a local authority maintained school.
  6. If the local authority decides to cease to maintain the child’s statement.
    The Tribunal may dismiss the appeal, or order the local authority to continue to maintain the statement either in its existing form or with amendments. For this appeal, the local authority must maintain the statement until the Tribunal makes a decision or you withdraw your appeal.
  7. If the local authority refuses to amend the statement after an annual review.

SENDIST cannot deal with an appeal:

  • If the local authority refuses a request to change the name of the school to an independent or non-maintained school. To open up this option, you would need to ask for a reassessment and make representations for such a school at the proposed statement stage. You would then be able to appeal if turned down.
  • If you disagree with the description of the non-educational needs and provision in parts 5 and 6 of the statement.
  • About your child’s educational needs and provision if the statement is being amended only to change the name of a school at your request or if the Tribunal has ordered the local authority to maintain the statement.
  • For a change of school if you have made a similar request in the previous twelve months.
  • For a school to be named if no school is named in an existing statement. This applies where a parent is making their own arrangements, such as private education or home education. In these circumstances, if you stop making suitable arrangements for a child of compulsory school age the local authority should offer you the opportunity to state a preference for a school.

Who can appeal

Parents can appeal to SENDIST. You can appeal jointly but if you live at different addresses the papers will go only to the parent listed first on the appeal form.

A parent for the purposes of the Tribunal is a birth parent, any person with parental responsibility or anyone who has care of the child such as a grandparent or foster parent.

How to appeal

The letter from your local authority informing you of any decisions about your child must also include information about your right of appeal. SENDIST has a booklet, How to Appeal, which contains an appeal form and advice on putting in your appeal. Information on how to appeal is available on:
or phone 0870 241 2555.
See also our ‘Useful links’ page for a direct link to the booklet and appeal form.

Time limits

You must lodge your appeal within two months of receiving the letter from the local authority telling you of your right of appeal. If the end of the two months is in August, you have until the first working day in September. If you are not told of

  • your right of appeal,
  • the time-limit within which you must appeal,
  • the availability of dispute resolution arrangements,
  • and that those arrangements do not prejudice the right to appeal,

the time limit will not apply.


  • If you take your own appeal to Tribunal or are helped by a voluntary organisation it will be at nil or low financial cost
  • You may qualify for free legal help in putting your case together
  • The Tribunal is independent
  • The Tribunal has strong powers to order local authorities to take certain actions.


  • You may well need legal advice even if you feel able to take your own appeal
  • There is no free legal representation at the hearing. If you decide to hire a solicitor it will be expensive.
  • Slow: cases generally take four months to be heard from the time you lodge your appeal.

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Ask Tribunal to review decision

Following a Tribunal decision either party – parents or local authority – can apply to the Tribunal for the decision to be reviewed within ten working days of the date they are notified of the decision – it’s safest to use the date of the accompanying letter as the starting point for the ten working days. There are three grounds on which an application for review can be made:

  1. The decision was wrongly made as a result of an error by Tribunal staff
  2. There was an obvious error in the decision
  3. In the interests of justice.

If there has been a significant material change in the facts on which the Tribunal based its decision (e.g. the place in the unit the child was to take up turns out not to exist) which is discovered beyond the ten day limit, the President of the Tribunal may allow an application for a review beyond that limit.

The Tribunal that heard the original case or another Tribunal will hear an application for review, although the application can be refused by the President or Chair of the Tribunal if they believe that the review has no reasonable grounds for success.

If the Tribunal believes that any of the above grounds are made out, it can order that all or part of the decision is reviewed. The Tribunal that reviews the decision may:

  • set aside the decision
  • vary the decision
  • subsitute its own decision
  • order a rehearing before the same or a different Tribunal.

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High Court

Common types of action

Getting legal help

For most legal actions you need to seek advice from a solicitor as soon as possible. Speed is usually vital (especially in an appeal against a SENDIST decision) and any delay could result in the courts refusing to hear your case. If you don't think you can afford to pay lawyers, possible sources of help include:

Advantages of court action

  • A range of remedies
  • May be the quickest solution if your problem requires a simple court order for example
  • Low cost if you qualify for legal help and representation.


  • Expensive if you do not qualify for legal help and representation
  • Some actions take a long while to be heard
  • May alienate the professionals you want on your child’s side in the future.

In recent years judicial review has been the route that the majority of legal actions have been taken by parents or young people against schools, local authorities, and appeal panels.

Educational negligence claims may also be made although it is getting much harder to get legal help and representation (legal aid) for these actions.

Appeal SENDIST decision

If the Tribunal makes a mistake in how it applied the law when making a decision, an appeal can be made to the High Court. Appeals must be registered with the court within 28 days of the issue of the decision. This means that all the necessary forms must be correctly completed and with the court within that time. This is a complex process which means that preparation work must begin well before the deadline. Legal Aid is granted following assessment of both the family means, and the Legal Services Commission’s view of the likely prospects of the appeal succeeding. If the appeal is successful the judge would overturn the original tribunal decision, and order the case to be heard again by a differently constituted panel. The cost of taking such an appeal the High Court without Legal Aid is in the order of fifteen to twenty thousand pounds.

Judicial review

Judicial review is the way that courts supervise how public bodies exercise their powers. The court does not decide the merits of a particular case in a judicial review or replace their judgment with that of the public body. They consider, instead, how the public body carried out their duties and check that decisions were lawful. They may ask the public body to retake their decision if they find that the law and procedures were not followed.

To succeed in an application for judicial review about special educational needs, you must show either:

  • That the LA (or other public body) does not have the legal power to make the decision or to take the action which you object to; or
  • That the LA (etc.) is under a legal duty to act or make a decision in a certain way and is refusing or failing to do so.

Public bodies can be challenged on grounds of :

  1. Illegality including acting outside their powers or by making an error in law
  2. Improper use of their discretionary powers
  3. Irrationality – cases in which a decision is completely unreasonable
  4. Procedural unfairness
  5. Breach of the Human Rights Act.

Public bodies in education include:

  • school governing bodies
  • governors of maintained nurseries
  • governors of FE institutions
  • independent appeal panels for permanent exclusions
  • admission appeal panels
  • local authorities
  • SENDIST (see also Tribunal review)
  • Government ministers and government departments

Time limits

The time limit for applying for judicial review is as soon as possible but in any event three months from the date when the act or decision you are complaining about occurred. It is usually necessary to show that everything possible has been tried to resolve the problem before resorting to court action. However, it is vitally important to apply for judicial review as soon as possible even if the complaints procedure has not been completed. Even short delays can result in the court refusing to hear your case.

How to start an action

You or your child must apply for permission to the High Court. Your lawyer could ask the court to take immediate action before the case is heard. This would be temporary until the court’s final decision. You may have to wait between six months and a year for the case to be heard.


  • Quashing order – the court overturns a decision and requires the public body to make it again properly. This is the most common remedy.
  • Prohibiting order – the court tells the public body not to perform an action or make an unlawful decision.
  • Mandatory order which requires a public body to perform an action, for example to ensure the help on a statement is carried out.
  • Injunction – the court tells the public body to do or not to do something
  • Declaration – the court says that a decision or act is unlawful, for example a declaration that a decision or act is not in line with the Human Rights Act 1998.
  • Damages – an order very rarely made in judicial review but compensation may be awarded where a decision has caused harm or loss. This happens most often when a public body has interfered with human rights.


Appeals can be made to the Court of Appeal and, if permission is given, to the House of Lords.

Educational negligence

There have been some well-publicised cases of former pupils winning damages where their education suffered because a professional has given poor advice, for example. However, damages were generally modest when set against the cost of taking a case so the Legal Services Commission now rarely grants legal help or representation (formerly legal aid) for these cases. Few individuals can afford the high costs of financing an educational negligence case themselves.

Negligence arises where it can be proven on a balance of probabilities that:

  • a legal duty of care exists
  • the standard of care reasonably expected is breached (i.e. they acted in a way that no other professional would have acted at the time) and
  • damage (injury or loss) is suffered as a direct result. You may need strong evidence from professional witnesses to show that potential earnings have been affected.

Time limits

  • Three years from a young person’s 18th birthday, or
  • Three years from the time the person injured knew about the negligence or breach of duty and the harm or loss it caused if that is later.


The court can award damages.

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Media, councillors and MPs


Local and national press, radio and television may be interested in covering your case and this may exert pressure on decision makers but it is not without risk.


  • Immediate
  • An opportunity to air your grievances publicly
  • School or LA held to account publicly
  • No financial cost.


  • It may harm your relationship with the school/LA
  • The coverage may not be all positive – your child could be demonised, especially if they have been excluded
  • You could polarise the school or LA’s position
  • You may get revenge of sorts but not a remedy.



Local councillors make political decisions about local policies and priorities, so a complaint about the closure of a school or underfunding of a particular service is ultimately their responsibility. Target the councillor who will be most effective: if the councillor for your ward is nearing an election, they will be looking to win votes, especially if their majority is slim; find out which councillor is interested or responsible for education and who may have spoken out about special educational needs in the past. Choose a councillor who is willing to stick their neck out for you and who you know has campaigned for other parents in the past. Remember however that councils are responsible for carrying out the law made by national government so may be constrained in what they can do.


Members of Parliament (MPs) have a say in the passing of national legislation and have some clout in their local areas. They usually know which buttons to press to make things happen. However, they have little direct power in relation to how individual schools and local authorities carry out their duties and this may mean they are ineffective over a local complaint.

If you have a complaint about the Department for Education (DfE) your MP may be able to help. For example if you are complaining about the way the DCSF has dealt with a complaint or its decisions, actions, lack of action, policies or guidance, you could complain to the Parliamentary Ombudsman via your MP within 12 months of the action complained of. You cannot go directly to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The Parliamentary Ombudsman can recommend a range of remedies of the Department including requiring an apology, explanation, change of policy and compensation.

How to contact your MP

Your local library will have their contact details and information about when and where they hold local surgeries

The House of Commons information service can tell you:
Phone 020 7219 4272
Callers with a text phone can call through Typetalk, direct dial: 08001 020 7219 4272, or via a Typetalk operator: 0870 240 9598


  • Politicians will know where to go and who to see about your problem
  • They can help you write a letter or may write on your behalf
  • Cheap
  • Sometimes influential.


  • Individual politicians often have little direct power so may often refer you to others
  • No timetable by which they must respond or act on your behalf.

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