If you have already followed the school or college’s formal complaints procedure, or if there are reasons why you cannot use that procedure, the next step is to forward the complaint to:

  • the Department for Education (“DfE”), if you are complaining about a maintained school; or
  • the Education and Skills Funding Agency (“ESFA”), an executive agency of the DfE, if you are complaining about an academy, a free school, a college or an apprenticeship provider.

(If you are complaining about an independent school or college, see further down this page below)

Your complaint should set out the facts, and explain why the school or college’s formal complaint procedure failed to resolve matters. You should explain why the school or college’s actions are unreasonable or unlawful. You should also provide evidence, including copies of any letters or emails which show what has happened.

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


The DfE has considerable powers to direct schools and local authorities to take action. Department officials may put pressure on a school or local authority or issue guidance where it believes the law or good practice is being ignored.

However, the DfE keeps no records of the outcome of the complaints it receives so it is hard to know how effective this course of action is. It probably depends on whose desk the complaint falls. Our understanding is that the Secretary of State rarely uses his or her powers and if there is no remedy, for example because the child has left the school concerned, the DfE is unlikely to take up the complaint.

If the complaint is about an academy, the ESFA cannot change an academy’s decision. It will instead look at whether the academy considered your complaint properly, by following a procedure that is in line with legal requirements. If the ESFA agrees that the academy did not deal with your complaint properly, it may:

  • ask the academy to reconsider the complaint from an appropriate stage
  • ask the academy to change its complaints procedure so that it complies with legal requirements

Complaining about an independent school

The DfE can’t investigate individual complaints about private schools. But it has certain powers as a regulator if the school is not meeting standards set by DfE for:

  • education
  • pupil welfare and health and safety
  • school premises
  • staff suitability
  • making information available to parents
  • spiritual, moral, social or cultural development of students

The DfE will consider any reports of a major failure to meet the standards. It can arrange an emergency inspection to look at pupil welfare and health and safety, and make sure serious failings are dealt with.

The DfE can also ask the school inspectorates to take minor complaints into account when the school is next inspected.

How to make the complaint

Complaints to the DfE or the ESFA about schools (including academies) or sixth-form colleges are made using this online form.

For complaints about a further education college, an adult learning organisation or an apprenticeship provider, you should contact the ESFA using the details here.

Next steps

If your complaint to the DfE does not resolve matters, you could complain to Ofsted. (Note that Ofsted does not consider complaints about further education settings.)

If complaining to Ofsted is not appropriate – for example, because the matter is serious and urgent – you may need to consider judicial review.


If you haven’t been able to find the answer to your question, you can book an appointment to speak with us.